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Scottish Parliament committee backs hate crimes bill

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The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has published its Stage 1 Report on proposed legislation that allows courts to impose tougher sentences for offences aggravated by the victim’s disability, gender identity or sexual orientation.

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

It would require the aggravation of an offence by prejudice on grounds of disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity to be taken into account in sentencing.

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has heard evidence on proposed legislation.

In a statement the committee said it agrees that if a crime was motivated by malice and ill-will towards a victim because of his or her actual or presumed sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability, then it should be classed as an aggravated offence.

If the offender is found guilty, the court must then take that motivation into account when determining sentence.

The committee said it also supports the proposal that this may lead to a longer custodial sentence, a higher fine or an alternative sentence that addresses attitudes leading to hate crime.

Committee Convener Bill Aitken MSP said:

“The committee, whilst acknowledging concerns raised by groups about the creation of a hierarchy of victims’ rights, believes, on balance, that it is appropriate to create these new statutory aggravations.

“Although it is already possible under the existing common law to take the motivations of an offender into account when determining sentence and we know that courts do use these powers, we hope the Bill will ensure that the existence of any aggravations will be dealt with more consistently and appropriately.

“The committee also welcomes the provisions in the Bill that will ensure the accurate recording of aggravated offences from the initial reporting of an offence through to prosecution, conviction and eventual sentence.”

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