Nicola Sturgeon’s former law professor has branded the SNP’s hate crime Bill “naïve” and “wholly unnecessary”.
The Scottish Government is proposing to extend existing hate crime law to include protected characteristics such as religion, transgender identity and sexuality, and would criminalise “abusive” speech which is “likely to stir up hatred”.
But Alistair Bonnington, a former Honorary Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow who taught the First Minister during her time there, said the proposed law poses a risk to freedom of speech.
Bonnington said: “This is yet another example of the SNP failing to understand fundamental principles of Scots law.”
He said that in recent legislation such as the controversial Named Person scheme and the sectarianism in football law, the SNP have shown “an embarrassing level of ignorance as to how we do things in our Scottish system”.
He added that the SNP is “wasting the parliament’s time dealing with wholly unnecessary laws”, explaining that judges have always sentenced criminals more severely when crimes are committed because of an aggravating underlying motive.
an embarrassing level of ignorance as to how we do things in our Scottish system
The former BBC Scotland legal adviser continued: “This particular Bill is even worse than normal, in that the Government admits there is no evidence that it is necessary, and the Bill will interfere with freedom of speech.”
He added: “Fundamental human rights freedoms, such as free speech, are not understood or respected by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government seems to believe that they can create a lovely Mary Poppins world by passing well-meant, but naïve laws.”
The Bill has also been criticised by a host of others including the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Police Federation.
The Scottish Conservatives justice spokesman Liam Kerr MSP, said the Bill “is deeply flawed and will destroy our fundamental right to freedom of speech – no wonder the vast majority of Scots hate it”.
The Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, who has been driving the Bill, says he will try to find “common ground” amid the backlash to the unpopular Bill but claimed it would “not prevent people expressing controversial, challenging or even offensive views”.
The Bill proposes criminalising those who own “inflammatory material”.
Critics point out this could apply to the Bible, but Yousaf claims it “will not prevent people having or expressing religious views or materials”.
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