The Christian Institute, LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and Amnesty International have all urged Northern Ireland to avoid Scotland’s example as the province prepares to conclude its long-running review into hate crime legislation.
A public consultation on the issue closed in April and retired judge Desmond Marrinan is due give his report to the Department of Justice later this month. However, new legislation is not expected before May 2022.
Speaking to the NewsLetter, Tatchell said the NI review had to “learn from the mistakes” of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.
Currently, the Scottish Bill lacks vital free speech clauses, including a ‘dwelling defence’ which protects words spoken in the home.
Tatchell stressed that any NI Bill “should have a clause guaranteeing freedom of expression”.
He also said “the same caveats should apply to the possession of inflammatory materials” – which many fear could criminalise possession of a Bible.
The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs, Simon Calvert, warned that Northern Ireland’s current hate crime law is already flawed and that further restrictions would make the situation even worse.
“We took legal advice on the Marrinan Review from Ivan Hare, a world-renowned expert on freedom of speech. His advice confirms that Northern Ireland law is already open to misuse by those who want to shut down debate, and that introducing swathes of new ‘hate crimes’ would make the situation much, much worse.
“The Scottish Government has faced the most extraordinary push back after announcing its own new hate crime proposals. The hate crime Bill has been dubbed the ‘most hated’ in the history of the Scottish Parliament.
“The Northern Ireland Executive must study the controversy in Scotland very carefully before it considers whether to try to legislate in this very fraught area.”
The publication of Judge Marrinan’s report has was delayed by six months due to the UK-wide lockdown between March and July.
Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister Naomi Long MLA has said that due to the timescales involved, new legislation is “unlikely” to be brought to the Assembly before May 2022.