New hate crime laws that came into force in Scotland this week have been welcomed by disability and equality organisations.
The Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009 extends existing laws covering violent crimes motivated by race or religious hatred to those with prejudice targeted at disabled or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
If an offence has been motivated by prejudice based on the victim’s impairment, sexual orientation or transgender identity, Scottish courts will now have to take that into account when deciding a sentence.
The bill was introduced by the Green MSP Patrick Harvie and then received backing from the Scottish government.
Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said the act “sends out a strong message that hate crime against LGBT and disabled people will not be tolerated”.
The disability charity Capability Scotland said it had been campaigning for seven years for disability hate crime laws.
Richard Hamer, director of external affairs for Capability Scotland, said the new act “sends a clear message about the Scottish public’s lack of tolerance” for disability hate crime.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in Scotland welcomed the new laws but warned that further action had to be taken to address the behaviour and rehabilitation of hate crime offenders.
It has carried out an international study of programmes aimed at rehabilitating hate crime offenders, and discovered there were no such national schemes in the UK.
Morag Alexander, the EHRC’s Scotland commissioner, said: “We know that disabled people and those from [LGBT] communities face often daily harassment and abuse just because of who they are.
“Today the implementation of this act sends a clear message that it is not acceptable.
“However, legislation on its own is not the magic solution. Alongside education campaigns in our classrooms and sentencing in our courtrooms we need to plug the gap that currently exists when it comes to changing the behaviour and attitudes of the small minority of people in Scotland who are responsible for inflicting such harm.”
The EHRC is conducting a formal inquiry which aims to discover the extent of the harassment and violence experienced by disabled people in England and Wales.
24 March 2010