The BBC has joined representatives of the police and the judiciary in a chorus of opposition against the Scottish Government’s highly controversial hate crime Bill.
BBC Scotland said it “strongly shares” concerns expressed by the Scottish Newspaper Society about the legislation’s “impact on freedom of expression”. The organisation, which campaigns for press freedom, branded the Bill a “serious threat to freedom of expression in its broadest sense”.
If passed, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill would criminalise words deemed “abusive” and “likely” to stir up hatred against particular groups. It would not require any proof of intent.
The Senators of the College of Justice, Scotland’s most senior judges, questioned “whose perception” would determine if an offence had been committed under the Bill’s ambiguous threshold.
serious threat to freedom of expression in its broadest sense
They also highlighted the lack of free speech protections for comments made on certain areas covered by the legislation, including transgender identity.
The Sheriffs’ Association, representing the country’s next tier of the judiciary, said that the lack of objectivity over what would constitute an offence under the Bill would make it “exceptionally difficult to direct a jury on these matters”.
The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents added that the legislation does not “provide sufficient, qualified protection for the human right of freedom of expression” and may result in the police “regularly” becoming the arbiters of “expressions of opinion”.
‘Fuel to the fire’
Spokesman for the Free to Disagree campaign, Jamie Gillies, commented: “These submissions to the Justice Committee add more fuel to the fire currently raging beneath the Scottish Government’s hate crime proposals.”
“Even the BBC”, he added, “has recognised the danger that these plans present to fundamental freedoms”.
The fresh criticism was revealed as part of the “unprecendented” response to the Justice Committee’s consultation on the legislation. The comments came amongst almost 2,000 submissions.
Last week, Committee Convener Adam Tomkins MSP said “it is vital that sufficient time is allowed for scrutiny, adding that “our Committee has already agreed that it will revisit the deadline of 18 December should it become necessary”.