Despite recent concessions, the Scottish hate crime Bill still requires major changes before it is passed, critics have said.
Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has already amended the Bill to ensure an offence can only be committed if there is ‘intent’ to stir up hatred.
Now he says he will also amend the section of the Bill covering freedom of expression and religion so that “mere expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule and insult” will not be criminalised.
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr MSP said the Bill remains “dangerously flawed” because the concessions do not address its core issues.
He highlighted that the Scottish Government has only made “minor changes around the margins instead of removing the clear attacks on freedom of speech”.
Unlike similar hate crime legislation in England and Wales, the Bill lacks robust free speech clauses including a ‘dwelling defence’ to defend private conversation in the home..
Dr Stuart Waiton, senior lecturer of sociology and criminology at Abertay University, said this makes the Bill “profoundly authoritarian” in terms of its “threat to speech and thought”.
‘Vague and inadequate’
Speaking to BBC Scotland, The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs Simon Calvert welcomed the Government’s readiness to make concessions.
But he added: “They’re going to have to go a long way to satisfy the very wide range of critics that they’ve got of this legislation”.
“If they get it wrong, innocent people are going to be convicted of a hate crime”
“The concepts at the heart of it are too vague, the thresholds are too low, the free speech clauses are not adequate, and the Government has only got one chance to get this right.
“If they get it wrong, innocent people are going to be convicted of a hate crime.”
The Bill is set to criminalise words or behaviour intended to stir up hatred against particular groups, but concerned parties have pointed out that the ambiguity of the term “abusive” in the Bill leaves it open to exploitation.
Women’s group For Women Scotland has warned the Justice Secretary that “subjective” definitions of the term could legislate their group “out of existence”.
The group said they are frequently labelled as “transphobic”, which would “undoubtedly” lead to “reports to the police if the proposed hate crime Bill was law.”