Court bid to halt rushed sectarianism Bill
Legal papers will be filed at the Court of Session later today to put the brakes on the Scottish Government’s lightning-fast timetable for its Bill tackling sectarianism.
The move will allow everyone to take a breath and make sure crucial mistakes are not made.
If the legal action is successful, the court could declare that the lack of consultation and the rushed timetable are unlawful and order the Government to slow down.
The Law Society of Scotland, the Church of Scotland, and civil rights groups have all expressed concern that not enough time is being allowed for proper scrutiny and consultation.
Passing the Bill too hastily could lead to mistakes, allowing sectarian offenders to wriggle out of convictions, or inadvertently damaging civil liberty and free speech.
In 2006 SNP MPs, including Alex Salmond, voted for a wide-ranging free speech clause to Westminster’s religious hatred law. The Bill before the Scottish Parliament contains a very similar law, but crucially with no free speech clause.
The legal action is being taken by The Christian Institute and CARE for Scotland, represented in court by Aidan O’Neill QC.
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “We all wish to see the stain of sectarian hatred removed from our society, but we must not act in haste. This is too important to get wrong. There must be proper public consultation.
“It helps nobody if offenders are able to wriggle out of convictions because of mistakes in the law. And if legislation is needed, we must take care that it catches the guilty not the innocent.
“We know the Government doesn’t want to criminalise religious jokes, atheists criticising Christianity, journalists debating fundamentalist Islam, or peaceful preaching. But without a clear and specific free speech clause, this will happen. Even Roseanna Cunningham has refused to rule out that singing the national anthem could be caught by the Bill.
“The problem of sectarian hatred cannot be solved by legislation alone. If there is need for new laws, it is vital that the Government takes people with them. Rushed legislation that inadvertently impacts free speech could be divisive and damage community cohesion. That’s the last thing anyone wants to see.”
For a briefing about the legal action:http://www.christian.org.uk/issues/2011/sectarianismbill/legalopinion.pdf