A Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party has warned that the Scottish Government’s hate crime Bill must be amended to protect free speech, after the Scottish Government apologised for misrepresenting it.
In a letter to Liam Kerr MSP, the Scottish Conservative Party’s justice spokesman, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf apologised for misrepresenting the legislation but still claimed it did not constitute “a low threshold for criminality”.
Yousaf had incorrectly told Holyrood that a person’s actions would have to be “abusive and threatening” for a prosecution to take place under the Bill. In reality, under the draft wording, just a perception of ‘abuse’ could trigger a criminal complaint.
Kerr said that he was “pleased” that Yousaf admitted his mistake but “disappointed that he still doesn’t appear to have recognised the consequences either of his misunderstanding nor his drafting.”
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill seeks to extend the law on ‘hate crime’ covering particular characteristics, including religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.
If the Bill passes, words or behaviour perceived to be “abusive” and “likely” to stir up hatred would constitute an offence. There would be no need to show that stirring up hatred had been intended.
Yousaf claimed that it will be up to the courts to decide if a person has committed an offence, but Kerr said there would be “no basis for judges to take those decisions until people find themselves in court having to prove their innocence.
an underhand, insidious undermining of free speech
“Mr Yousaf’s approach is effectively an underhand, insidious undermining of free speech.”
He warned: “If Part 2 of this Bill is not completely reconsidered our most basic right to freedom of speech will be seriously undermined.”
The proposals have met with fierce criticism since being announced, with politicians and organisations expressing concerns about the implications for free speech.
Last month, a former deputy leader of the SNP blasted the Scottish Government over how the controversial hate crime legislation threatens those who reject transgender ideology.
Writing in The Spectator, Jim Sillars accused Holyrood of “virtue signalling” and “punishing any who assert biological fact”.