Scotland considers new law to protect gays

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Scotland’s lawmakers are set to consider new laws to protect gays after a private members bill was lodged in Holyrood yesterday calling for violence towards gay and disabled groups to be treated as seriously as violence against religious or ethnic groups.

The Sentencing of Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland) Bill, proposed by Patrick Harvie, a Scottish Green MSP, would bring Scotland into line with England and Wales, where courts have been able to impose tougher sentences for offences committed due to the victims disability or sexual orientation since April 2003.

There are no guarantees that enough MSPs will support the bill, but it appears to have received a warm welcome from the government.

A Scottish government spokesman told “We’ll look at the details of Patrick Harvie’s bill and will be discussing with him and others how to take this forward in the coming months.

“The Scottish government has a manifesto commitment to extending hate crime legislation.

“It’s not a question of whether, it’s a question of how.”

The move was supported in Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party manifestos during the elections last May. A 2004 working group, which included police, the Crown Office and gay and disabled groups recommended the legislation in 2004.

“I was deeply disappointed that the last executive decided not to press ahead with this simple but important measure,” Patrick Harvie said.

“We know that the hate crime laws which protect religious groups and minority ethnic

communities are useful not only in individual cases, but also in focusing police attention on the problem.

“Disabled people and sexual minorities deserve no less protection from prejudice and bigotry.”

He continued: “This measure should gain cross party support – I want to urge all political parties to show that their commitments on tackling prejudice in Scotland will be followed through.

“It would be a great show of unity if this Bill was passed with the support of all the parties which supported this measure south of the border, as well as the Scottish parties.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party said:

“Labour will consider the detail of Partick Harvie’s bill when it is fully published. Tough action on anti social behaviour must be a priority, it is extremely disappointing that the SNP in government seem to have gone soft, rolling back measures Labour introduced to make our communities safer.

“The Tories and the SNP talk tough on law and order and act soft.”

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

Shadow justice secretary Bill Aitken said: “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.

“The problem now is that there are too many aggravations, racial or sectarian. It has created a situation whereby the only people who do not enjoy the full protection of the court are heterosexual white males.

“Everyone is entitled to the same protection from the courts and assaults should always be dealt with severely, regardless of any lifestyle choices that happen to be undertaken by the perpetrator or the victim.”

But the police have indicated their support for new hate crime measures, with the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland (ACPOS) saying the bill would send out a message to the gay community that the law was on their side.

Speaking on behalf of the ACPOS, ACC Neil Richardson of Lothian and Borders Police said:

“The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland considers all crime motivated by hate as utterly intolerable.

“This addition to the legislation will send a clear message of support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and should assist in giving increased confidence to those who are, or become, victims of homophobic or transphobic crimes to report the circumstances to the police.”

Recent Scottish studies have 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.

Stonewall’s Scotland Director, Calum Irving, said: “We strongly welcome Patrick Harvie’s bill and hope that all MSPs actively support it.

“A modern Scotland should be a country which makes it clear that anti-gay hate is wrong and will be tackled with the full force of the law.”