Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has said that extending hate crime laws to protect LGBT people and the disabled will send out a “clear message” that such crimes cannot be tolerated.
Addressing the Scottish Parliament today, he said: “People whoever they are, whatever disability they are afflicted by, whatever sexual orientation they possess, are entitled to the full protection of the law and to be treated with dignity, with compassion, and to be fully and properly protected.
“We do need to remember these things do happen, and frankly far too often and that is why action is needed.”
Put forward by Green MSP Patrick Harvie, the Bill means that courts must take into account motivation when sentencing. Racial and religious motives are already covered by the law.
Mr MacAskill cited studies which have suggested that 47 per cent of disabled Scottish people had experienced hate crime, while 23 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people had been physically assaulted because of their sexuality.
He added: “We believe that this type of crime is substantially under-reported in Scotland. That’s rather shameful.
“One of the aims of the Bill is to tackle this phenomenon. We wish to encourage those who have experienced hate crime to come forward in confidence that they will be taken seriously and that the crime that has been committed against them will be dealt with appropriately.
“No one in Scotland should be targeted or victimised because of 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.”
The Bill, which has cross-party support, may also lead to improved monitoring of offences, and a more consistent approach to dealing with such crimes. Supporters have said it may also encourage more victims to come forward.