The Scottish Government’s controversial hate crime legislation is a dangerous threat to free speech, which would have unintended consequences, a Scottish newspaper has warned.
In an editorial, the Scottish Daily Mail called the Bill “a broad and sweeping piece of legislation that risks criminalising speech currently considered merely offensive or even an expression of political belief”.
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 it passes, words or behaviour considered to be “abusive” and “likely” to stir up hatred would constitute an offence.
The Scottish Daily Mail said that the Bill’s wording “opens up vast swathes of speech and behaviour, currently allowed under law, to potential prosecution on the basis of vague and ill-defined principles. The threat to freedom of speech is severe and the opportunity for unintended consequences ripe.
“The SNP is straying into a potential minefield – and risks endangering the fundamental principles of free speech.”
The threat to freedom of speech is severe and the opportunity for unintended consequences ripe.
Last week, a Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party warned that the legislation must be amended to protect free speech after the Scottish Government apologised for misrepresenting the Bill’s wording.
In response to Liam Kerr MSP, the Scottish Conservative Party’s justice spokesman, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP apologised for misrepresenting the legislation but still claimed that its language does not constitute “a low threshold of 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.