Scotland ignores homophobic crime

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Disabled and gay groups have criticised the Scottish Executive after Deputy Justice Minister Johann Lamont confirmed that their communities would not be included in new hate crime laws.

In a written answer to Labour MSP Susan Deacon, Ms Lamont, appears to backtrack on recommendations from the Working Group on Hate Crime in October 2004, which push for an inclusion of the groups as a “statutory aggravation” when considering the motives of the crime.

The groups are currently included in the law in the reset of the UK, but the Scottish legislation only considers sectarian and racist motives.

Ms Lamont said: “We gave careful consideration to the working group’s recommendation and concluded the creation of a further statutory offence would work against our wider objective of improving consistency in sentencing.”

Ms Deacon told The Herald: “I am disappointed that ministers have not moved more quickly on this issue. Every other part of the UK has now introduced a statutory aggravation to address sexual orientation and disability-related hate crime, as well as the aggravated sentences for race and religion that have already been introduced in Scotland.

“I would like to see the executive give a clear assurance that they will address this matter at an early date. There had been widespread concern that the executive did not address this issue through the Sentencing Bill as they had previously indicated they would do. While there may be good reason for that, it is important that another vehicle is found to deal with this.”

Tim Hopkins of the Equality Network accused the Executive of not caring about the communities, “We’re extremely disappointed that two years after the hate crime working group recommended this change the executive has now rejected it. This sends out completely the wrong message – it says the executive is not concerned about homophobic and disability-related crime.

“They said they wanted to wait for the report of the Sentencing Commission on consistency of sentencing. That was published two months ago and recommended following the English model.

“The four areas of hate crime – race, religion sexual orientation and disability – are the areas where research shows a small number of perpetrators who target a large number of victims.

“England has achieved consistency in sentencing, plus aggravated offences in these four areas. In Scotland we have inconsistency of sentencing and only race and religion covered, so the whole system from police up through prosecutors to judges cannot handle the issue of attacks on gay and disabled people.”

The group argues that the Executive had agreed to this and it looked ready to be made into law, yet on the last day of the Scottish parliament in June 2006 the aggravation amendments were suddenly removed.

It comes after an investigation by The Scotsman in July found an increase in homophobic incidents in Scotland. It claims that “In the Lothian and Borders region, police have revealed that 30 homophobic offences have been recorded this year, compared with 37 for the whole of 2005. In 2003, just 19 incidents were recorded.

“In Strathclyde, 128 crimes and 16 “non-crime incidents” were recorded in 2005-6, against 113 and 25 the previous year, and only 40 and ten in 2003-4 – a rise of more than 200 per cent in three years. Such crimes included serious assault, threats and extortion, indecent assault, vandalism and breach of the peace.

“In Dumfries and Galloway, the number of recorded homophobic crimes and incidents, from physical assaults to verbal abuse, doubled from 20 in 2004-5 to 40 last year.

Over the past three years, recorded homophobic crimes and incidents have soared by about 150 per cent.”

David Lyle, Scottish co-ordinator for the Gay Police Association, said: “If you replace the word ‘gay’ with ‘black’ in these verbal attacks, there would, quite rightly, be a massive outcry. But it seems perfectly possible to abuse gay people and hide behind the supposed shield of ‘because it’s my religious belief’.”

Mr Lyle suggested people were suffering retaliation from religious groups angry at pro-gay laws such as civil partnerships and gay adoption.

Calum Irving, director of gay rights group Stonewall Scotland, said: “These alarming figures show that the Scottish Executive should be legislating in this area. They are talking about consistency of sentencing, but this leaves Scotland the only part of the UK that doesn’t have statutory aggravation on the basis of sexual orientation.”