The Scottish Police Federation has slammed the Scottish Government’s controversial hate crime Bill, warning that it would significantly increase the police’s workload and damage freedom of speech.
The organisation, which represents 98% of the country’s police officers, said that the Bill would see “officers policing speech and would devastate the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of the public”.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill would criminalise ‘stirring up hatred’ against people on the basis of certain ‘protected characteristics’, including religion, sexuality and transgender identity. There would be no need to show that stirring up hatred had been intended, or actually happened.
Calum Steele, General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said: “The Bill would move even further from policing and criminalising of deeds and acts to the potential policing of what people think or feel, as well as the criminalisation of what is said in private.”
devastate the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of the public
He added that laws are already in place to tackle criminal conduct, and the Bill will, if passed, “paralyse freedom of expression for both individuals and organisations by threatening prosecution for the mere expression of opinion which may be unpopular.
“Individuals, organisations, or others with an interest in doing so could shut down debate on important matters by simply labelling it criminal hatred.”
The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland is also opposing the legislation, warning that if the freedom to disagree is not protected “we risk becoming an intolerant, illiberal society”.
In its submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, the Roman Catholic bishops said that their belief that biological sex is unchangeable would not be protected under the Bill.
Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, called on the Scottish Government to amend the “deeply flawed bill”, saying: “Lawyers, police officers and a wide range of civic organisations have now expressed serious reservations about the scope and effect of this legislation.”
Last week, the Law Society of Scotland set out its reasons for why the legislation would restrict free speech.
Responding to the Scottish Parliament’s consultation, the professional body for Scottish solicitors criticised the Bill’s “vagueness” and the low threshold for committing a ‘hate crime’, saying it could censor the free expression of opinion.
President Amanda Millar said: “We have real concerns that certain behaviour, views expressed, or even an actor’s performance, which might well be deemed insulting or offensive, could result in a criminal conviction under the terms of the Bill as currently drafted.”