The Scottish Government’s hate crime Bill has passed the first stage in Holyrood after the Justice Secretary promised to substantially water down his proposals.
Earlier this week, Humza Yousaf MSP said he would implement suggestions made by the Justice Committee to include strengthening the protection for freedom of expression, having an objective test to decide if something is ‘abusive’, and scrapping the section on ‘inflammatory materials’.
MSPs voted 91 to 29 in favour of the ‘general principles’ of the Bill after Yousaf said he was “open-minded” about further changes.
Liam Kerr MSP, Justice Spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said the Bill was the “most controversial” piece of legislation in the history of devolution, and while he welcomed the “encouraging amendments”, he said that “mere tinkering is not enough”.
He said: “As it is currently drafted, this Bill could criminalise what other people may deem to be offensive or disrespectful. There is no way any politician with a belief in our fundamental right to freedom of speech could support this shoddy and dangerous law.”
He added: “This Bill is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose. Such threats to freedom of speech cannot become law.”
There is no way any politician with a belief in our fundamental right to freedom of speech could support this shoddy and dangerous law.
Rhoda Grant MSP said the Labour party had “real concerns about the way the Bill has been drafted”, adding that Yousaf “must go further” to meet them.
Scrap the Bill
Richard Lyle MSP said: “There is still wide concern about the definitions in the Bill. What does the term ‘hatred’ mean? In today’s world, merely disagreeing with certain ideas is considered hateful by certain people.
“That is the world we live in and that is what we have to deal with. Vague stirring up hatred laws could give people a tool with which to punish their political opponents and pursue personal grievances through the courts.”
Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Institute-backed Free To Disagree campaign, said “If fears about these controversial proposals persist, MSPs must act decisively and see them scrapped.”