A Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party has voiced concern after the Scottish Government misrepresented the free speech impact of its hate crime Bill.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP had incorrectly told Holyrood that a person’s actions would have to be “abusive and threatening” for a prosecution to take place under the legislation. In reality, under the draft wording, just a perception of ‘abuse’ could trigger a criminal complaint.
But after Liam Kerr MSP, who is also his party’s justice spokesman, told Yousaf the assertion was “inaccurate”, a Government official has confirmed that the Justice Secretary will amend the record.
Kerr urged for “greater care” to be taken in the future, saying it is “even more important given the low threshold of criminality that is clearly indicated in the provisions contained within part two of the bill.”
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill seeks to extend the law on ‘hate crime’ against 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.
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 its controversial hate crime legislation.
Writing in The Spectator, Jim Sillars said that Scotland’s political leaders had abandoned “intellectual rigour” in favour of pursuing people through the courts.
He wrote: “Scots are now locked in a woke chamber: virtue signalling, pandering to perceived victimhood, punishing any who assert biological fact, placing a halter of criminality on free thought when articulated by speech, abandoning common sense.”