A leading Scottish lawyer has warned that the Government’s controversial hate crime legislation could criminalise comedy.
Roddy Dunlop QC, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, voiced concern that comedians who tell the “Scotsman, Irishman and Englishman go to a pub” joke could be committing an offence under the Bill, if it is deemed to be discriminatory against Scottish people’s national identity.
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 the legislation passes, words or behaviour considered to be “abusive” and “likely” to stir up hatred would constitute an offence.
Mr Dunlop said: “How many stand-up comedians will feel comfortable telling any jokes if this law is passed?”
He added: “We worry it will be too wide and too much of a curb on freedom of expression.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said that the Bill does not include “insulting” as part of “the conduct that may constitute a criminal offence”. However, it does cover words which are “abusive” – which dictionaries list as a synonym for “insulting”.
The proposals have met with fierce criticism since being announced, with politicians and organisations expressing concerns about the implications for freedom of expression.
Last month, a former deputy leader of the SNP blasted the Scottish Government over how the controversial hate crime legislation threatens those who reject transgender ideology.
Writing in The Spectator, Jim Sillars accused Holyrood of “virtue signalling” and “punishing any who assert biological fact”.