A group representing many of Scotland’s top lawyers has stated its opposition to the SNP’s controversial hate crime Bill.
The Scottish Government proposes to criminalise ‘abusive’ words or behaviour ‘likely to stir up hatred’ against people on the grounds of characteristics such as religion, sexuality, and transgender identity.
But the Faculty of Advocates said that aspects of the Bill would have “a chilling effect on legitimate, if controversial, debate and the performing arts”.
Time to reconsider
The lawyers’ professional body said the definition of religion was “vague and likely to create difficulty”, particularly in instances where a person’s religious affiliation might only be perceived, such as due to their support of a particular football team.
The Faculty added that the Bill opened the door to the prospect of malicious complaints being made against others which could cause “extensive disruption to life and livelihood”. Such complaints, it said, could also cause “invasion of privacy and domestic life”.
It continued with a warning that there could be a “large number of prosecutions” but questioned the rationale for legislation “which has no likelihood of being enforced”.
The group concluded: “In light of the difficulties which exist with the current text, the Faculty considers that there is no alternative but to reconsider the draft Bill”.
‘Damaging and inept’
The Faculty’s opposition comes shortly after the Law Society of Scotland similarly spoke out against the “vague” Bill, saying the “lack of clarity” could “in effect lead to restrictions in freedom of expression”.
President Amanda Millar said: “We have real concerns that certain behaviour, views expressed, or even an actor’s performance, which might well be deemed insulting or offensive, could result in a criminal conviction under the terms of the Bill as currently drafted.”
The Scottish Conservatives’ Shadow Justice Secretary Liam Kerr, urged the Scottish Government to withdraw the “damaging and inept” Bill.
He added: “The very principles of free speech itself are under threat”.