By Hilary White

EDINBURGH, January 15, 2008 ( – The independent Parliament of Scotland has approved a bill to increase penalties for hate crimes, based on a judgement of the perpetrator’s motives of “ill will” towards homosexuals.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has said the government would support the bill. Should the bill be passed, it will bring Scotland into line with England and Wales, where courts have been able to impose tougher sentences for offences committed due to a victim’s disability or sexual orientation for several years.

The Sentencing of Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland) Bill was proposed by Patrick Harvie, a Scottish Green Member of the Scottish Parliament. Harvie said, “For too long our justice system has been oblivious to the motivation behind hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Scots, as well as Scots with disabilities.”

Harvie, who identifies himself as “bisexual” is a long-time activist for homosexual causes, getting his start in political work as a teenager with the Gay Men’s Project. He is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, Honorary Vice-President of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association and Stonewall, Britain’s most prominent homosexual lobbyist organisation.

The bill will extend statutory aggravations to cover crimes motivated by malice or ill will towards victims.

Critics of such laws, however, have said that neither governments nor courts have the competence to rule on motives and that “hate”-based crimes already have ample provision for prosecution. Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken said attacks on gay people were serious issues already recognised by judges and sheriffs.

“In Scotland, we pride ourselves in the fact that we are all equal in the eyes of the law but some it now seems are more equal than others, which cannot be right,” he said.

Aiken added, “If we carry on the way things are going, with so many special cases, then the only people that will not have the protection of the court in Scotland are white, heterosexual males.”