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The Hate Crime Bill has split opinion across Scotland since it was introduced to the Scottish Parliament earlier this year.
There are those who believe it will offer enhanced protections to marginalised groups in modern day society and send out a strong message that the country does not tolerate hate crime while there are others who have serious concerns it will threaten freedom of expression and the ability to voice controversial opinions.
To set the scene, it is important to look first at which offences can constitute a hate crime and what current protections are in place for protected groups in Scotland.
Offences are currently aggravated by prejudice against a victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or their transgender identity.
Hate crime can take many forms including verbal abuse or insults, assault and damage to property, but also online abuse on sites like Facebook or Twitter.
When a criminal is convicted of a hate crime, an ‘aggravation’ can be added to their sentence, meaning that if, for example, someone attacks an individual based on their race, then a racial aggravation can be added to the crime of assault.
The Scottish Government’s proposed legislation would incorporate the existing aggravating factors but also add the characteristic of age, with the potential to include sex at a later date so misogynistic harassment can become a standalone offence.
If passed by parliament, the Hate Crime Bill, will also make “stirring up of hatred” extend to all the characteristics, rather than just against race, which has been an offence in Scots law for decades.
The proposed changes follow a review of hate crime legislation by Lord Bracadale, in which he recommended age and gender should be incorporated into law.
As well as adding age to the list, the definition of transgender identity has been updated and a separate category created for variations in sex characteristics.
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