Page last updated at 00:19 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Hate crime law comes into force in Scotland

Hand holding
Courts will consider the motivation for the offence when sentencing

A new law has come into force to tackle hate crimes against gay or disabled people.

The act puts hate crimes against disabled or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people on the same footing as racist incidents.

The legislation was put forward by Green MSP Patrick Harvie in 2008.

Its implementation comes the day after a survey by the Stonewall charity suggested one-third of Scotland's gay community has been physically attacked.

According to the poll, two-thirds of LGBT people have been verbally abused, but 88% did not report it to the police.

Only four out of ten people who had been physically attacked told the authorities.

The Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland) Act brings Scotland into line with the rest of the UK by widening the definition of hate crimes.

Patrick Harvie
Patrick Harvie's member's bill won cross-party support

It means courts must take into account the motivation for the offence, which may result in a more severe sentence.

Mr Harvie's member's bill gained cross-party support when it was introduced at the Scottish parliament.

He said: "From today, perpetrators of hate crimes against disabled and LGBT Scots will be put on notice.

"Courts can now take account of the true nature of their crimes when sentencing, and the police will be gathering data to see how effectively these offences are being tackled.

"Personally, I am also delighted to see Scotland's first Green-initiated legislation go onto the statute books, and I have been pleased to work very closely with the Scottish government on the issue."

'Same footing'

Labour's justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "We need to send a clear message that hate crime will be dealt with with the full force of the law.

"It is clear too many victims of hate crime do not feel confident in coming forward and reporting hate crime because they do not believe it will make a difference - that needs to change.

"The new legislation will give sentencers greater powers and I hope that victims will feel that if they come forward they will get the support they need."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "There is no excuse for any form of hate crime; it is simply not acceptable and it will not be tolerated.

"When it does happen, victims must have the confidence to report it, confident that they will receive a good level of service from the police and other agencies.

"That is exactly why we've got this new legislation coming into force which will rightly put these kinds of crimes on the same footing as racist incidents."

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