Creating a fairer Britain
24 March 2010
The Commission in Scotland has welcomed new laws coming into force across Scotland today that will directly address how Scotland’s courts deal with the perpetrators of hate crime. However the Commission has warned that until further action is taken to address the behaviour and rehabilitation of hate crime offenders, we will still have a long way to go before we can call a halt to the harassment and harm that continues to blight the lives of many Scots.
The new law extends protection already in place for victims of violent crime motivated by their race or religion to LGBT and disabled people. Evidence shows these groups are significantly more likely to be targets for certain criminal acts simply because of who they are. Where it can be proven that an offence has been motivated by malice or ill-will based on the victim’s disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity, the court must take that motivation into account when determining sentence.
The Commission is currently conducting a formal inquiry looking at the extent of disability related harassment. A report on the safety and security of disabled people published by the Commission last year found that disabled people are four times more likely to be the victim of a crime than other people and are twice as likely to be the victim of a violent attack (see 1 ). In addition, two thirds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Scotland report being verbally abused or threatened and over a third report being physically attacked on the basis of their presumed sexual orientation.
Morag Alexander, Equality & Human Rights Commission Scotland Commissioner welcomed the Act but warned that legislation on its own is not enough:
'We know that disabled people and those from Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender 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 Commission has undertaken an international study of programmes aimed at rehabilitating people convicted of hate crimes and found that there are no national programmes of this kind in the UK, despite:
These figures show a clearly recognised need to intervene to prevent re-offending and to limit further damage caused by prejudiced offenders to individuals, to their communities or to themselves.
The Commission is undertaking an inquiry into disability related harassment and how well this is currently being addressed by public authorities. We will be gathering evidence of disability related hate crime. If you have been subjected to harassment or verbal or physical abuse, please contact the commission helpline : 0845 604 6610
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The Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009 makes provision for statutory aggravations which can be attached to offences motivated by prejudice toward disabled or LGBT people, and requires courts to say what, if any, impact these aggravating factors have had on sentencing. It adds to existing similar provisions covering race and religion (respectively, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003). The Act was introduced as a Member's Bill by Patrick Harvie MSP on 19 May 2008, although it was supported by the Scottish Government (what is known as a “handout Bill”). The bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 3rd June 2009 and received Royal Assent on 8th July 2009. It commences on 24th March 2010.
The Commission is currently undertaking an international study of programmes aimed at rehabilitating people convicted of hate crimes. The Commission expects to publish this work in Spring 2010 and to make recommendations to develop programmes which challenge offenders motivations.