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Aggravated offence legislation not needed, says Society

21 January 2009

Additional legislation to penalise those who commit crimes against people because of their sexual orientation, transsexual status or disability is not needed, according to the Law Society of Scotland.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Justice Committee on the proposed Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Bill yesterday, the Society expressed its concerns about the potential effectiveness of such legislation.

In its earlier written response the Society’s criminal law and equalities law subcommittees stated the Society’s view that a statutory regime may not provide the flexibility that the common law currently does,  by enabling the prosecution of a wide variety of criminal conduct while allowing aggravating circumstances to be taken into account. The submission stated that defining in statute specific aggravated offences could possibly lead to difficulties in securing convictions.

Before the committee, Raymond McMenamin, solicitor advocate and partner of Livingston firm Keegan Walker, said that while it was for Parliament to decide whether legislation was necessary, there was nothing in the bill which could not be achieved by use of the common law as it stood.

He added that while making race and religion aggravating factors in other legislation had been effective, in around one in five cases, allegations were "blown out of proportion" or simply made up.

Questioning whether a statutory regime could provide the flexibility the law currently does, Mr McMenamin said: “If legislation is introduced, the Society would call for the monitoring of the outcome of any legislation to measure its effectiveness. We have also suggested that refresher training for police officers and staff should be a mandatory requirement to emphasise the importance of the legislation.”

Proposed by Green MSP Patrick Harvie, the bill has the support of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and SNP and Liberal Democrat members.


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