Hate crime bill gets committee support

05.03.2009

Strengthened legislation to protect victims of hate crime came one step closer today as the Justice Committee published its Stage 1 report on the issue.

Introduced by Patrick Harvie MSP, the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill will create new statutory aggravations to protect victims of crime who are targeted as a result of hatred of their actual or presumed sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability. Existing statutory aggravations, where an offender shows malice and ill-will, already protect individuals and groups targeted on racial or religious grounds.

The committee 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 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.”

The committee also acknowledged:

  • The Bill presents no threat to freedom of speech, including for groups who hold traditional, mainstream beliefs about marriage and sexuality.
  • The Justice Committee also shares concerns raised by the Equal Opportunities Committee about widening the Bill to include similar statutory aggravations for age and gender.
  • The provisions of the Bill should be reviewed by the Scottish Government no earlier than three years following implementation to consider the effectiveness of the proposed statutory aggravations.

Background
Introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 19 May 2008, the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill was prepared by Patrick Harvie MSP, with the assistance of the Scottish Government. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice had indicated on 15 January 2008 the Scottish Government’s support for legislation in this area. The Justice Committee was designated as lead committee for the Bill and the Equal Opportunities Committee as secondary committee.

The Stage 1 debate on the Bill is scheduled to take place in April.

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