New hate crime legislation is unlikely to be brought to Stormont for at least two more years, Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister has announced.
Naomi Long MLA said that the review of the current hate crime law, led by Judge Desmond Marrinan, has been delayed six months and is now expected to be completed by “the end of November”.
Long explained that due to the “timescales involved”, new legislation is “unlikely” to be brought to the Assembly before May 2022.
The Justice Minister said that Judge Marrinan is currently analysing responses from the public consultation on the issue that closed in April.
Long will consider the recommendations made and “where practicable, implement them as soon as possible”.
The review has met with strong opposition, with individuals and organisations expressing concerns about the implications for free speech and religious liberty.
Earlier this week, a prominent free speech and human rights lawyer issued a hard-hitting warning over proposals to change hate crime laws in the Province.
In a detailed legal opinion for The Christian Institute, Ivan Hare QC attacked the proposals which could see hate crime laws extended to those who express disagreement on issues like same-sex marriage or transgenderism.
He argued that, especially in the absence of key freedom of expression provisions like those in England and Wales, the plans will leave free speech in Northern Ireland “more vulnerable” to infringement.
Mr Hare warned that there was “clear potential” in the plans “to infringe the right to freedom of expression” and “a very real risk that robust and uninhibited discussion of matters of great public importance will suffer a chilling effect”.