Danger to free speech from hate crime change, top lawyers warn

Expanding hate crime laws in Scotland could threaten the “fundamental right” of freedom of expression, lawyers have warned.

Stating that current common law and existing legislation “are robust enough”, the lawyers warned changes could create “confusion and uncertainty”.

The Faculty of Advocates was responding to a consultation from Lord Bracadale, who is now considering what recommendation to make to the Scottish Government.

‘Jealously protect’

In its response, the lawyers warned that if hate crime laws were changed, “there is a genuine danger that such offences will also impact adversely on freedom of speech”.

“Freedom of expression should be a fundamental right in any modern-day society.

“As such it should be jealously protected even for those with whom we fundamentally disagree.”

Confusion risk

In response to the idea of specific hate crime laws for certain sections of society, the lawyers said “common law and existing legislation are robust enough in their current form”.

Freedom of expression should be a fundamental right in any modern-day society.

Faculty of Advocates

And it added: “To extend the law to further specific groups would risk causing confusion and uncertainty as it is often difficult to place people into a particular group.”

“The Faculty is not convinced that specific hate crime legislation is required in Scotland”, it stated in summary.

Christians on trial

Hate crime laws were used in 2009 in England to prosecute Christian hoteliers Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang.

The Vogelenzangs were put on trial in a criminal court because they criticised Islam during a discussion about religion with a Muslim lady. The Christian couple were supported by The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund.

The five minute conversation, which was calm and polite, took place in a hotel in Liverpool owned by Ben and Sharon.

After a two-day trial at Liverpool Magistrates Court, the judge dismissed the case and criticised the police for their handling of the incident.

Related Resources