Ministers, MSPs, police chiefs, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and gay rights activists have welcomed the announcement that the government in Scotland will support an extension of the country’s hate crimes legislation to protect LGBT people and the disabled.

The Sentencing of Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland) Bill was proposed by Patrick Harvie, a Scottish Green MSP.

It will bring Scotland into line with England and Wales, where courts have been able to impose tougher sentences for offences committed due to the victim’s disability or sexual orientation since April 2003.

Today Mr Harvie said:

“For too long our justice system has been oblivious to the motivation behind hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Scots, as well as Scots with disabilities.

“These proposals will, if Parliament backs them, mean these divisive and scarring crimes are deterred more effectively and taken more seriously, just as racially motivated attacks already are.

“We want to see a Scotland where these offences are made a thing of the past and where all Scots are treated with dignity and respect.

“This bill would also mean that proper records of this kind of attacks are kept for the first time, so we can see what progress is being made each year towards that goal.”

The move was supported in the Liberal Democrat and the Scottish National Party manifestos during the elections last May and now the SNP minority government support it.

The Scottish Conservative party has already indicated it will not support the bill.

Shadow justice secretary Bill Aitken said last year: “An assault is an assault and Patrick Harvie is wrong if he believes that any judge would not increase a sentence for an assault on a person who is, for example, physically disabled.

“It has created a situation whereby the only people who do not enjoy the full protection of the court are heterosexual white males.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the problem of LGBT and disabled hate crime must be dealt with.

“To do otherwise would compromise public safety,” he said.

“That is why I am delighted to announce today Government support for a bill which will extend statutory aggravations to cover crimes motivated by malice or ill will towards victims based on their sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability.

“Our clear aim is to prevent and deter crimes. But where crime does happen it will not be tolerated.

He paid tribute to Mr Harvie’s work on the extension of hate crimes.

“Through early, productive discussions with Mr Harvie we were able to decide on how best to achieve our shared aim.”

Senior police officers also voiced their support for a change in the current law.

Chief Constable Ian Latimer of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland said:

“The Scottish Police Service is committed to the provision of a quality service that is fair, accessible and meets the needs of all individuals.

“ACPOS supports proposals to bring in an aggravation to offences where the motive is malice towards any group within the diverse communities we serve.

“The public should have confidence that the Scottish Police Service rigorously investigates these types of crimes and will make full use of any new measures available.”

Morag Alexander, Scotland Commissioner for the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, said that LGBT people and those with mental health problems or a learning disability are more likely to have experienced abuse, threats and violence, simply because of they are.

“This is unacceptable in 21st century Scotland.

“We welcome these proposals to give the police, prosecutors and the courts the powers they need to monitor and tackle these types of offence.”

Recent studies in Scotland revealed that violence against the gay community is reaching a devastating level.

According to one such report, 36 percent of LGBT people have experienced abuse or violence in the last year, compared to 2.5 percent of the general population.

Director of Stonewall Scotland Calum Irving said:

“Scotland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have waited a long time for homophobic hatred to be tackled head on and this announcement is therefore very welcome.

“It’s time we sent a clear message that anti-gay hate is never acceptable in a modern Scotland.”