The Scottish Labour Party has warned that the Scottish Government’s controversial hate crime Bill could endanger freedom of expression.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill intends to 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.
James Kelly MSP, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, told the Justice Committee that the Bill would set an “alarming legal precedent and could result in the criminalisation of expressions of religious views”.
Concerning and confusing
Kelly said: “There is a significant divergence from similar law in England and Wales – where intent is required for a person to be criminalised for behaviour which another finds insulting.”
He warned that “even the terminology within these proposals is concerning, especially around the use of ‘insulting’ which is subjective and could cause serious legal confusion.
“The vague language used evokes memories of the now-repealed Football Act, where the ambiguity of provisions could have led to the criminalisation of legitimate expressions of culture and opinion.”
Last week, a top lawyer accused the Scottish Government of failing to define offences included in the hate crime Bill and warned that the proposals would drag people though the courts for ‘misspeaking’.
Thomas Ross QC said: “The language used in the Bill is so difficult to understand that it will be impossible for the man or woman in the street to know when the line is likely to be crossed.”
He concluded: “As a result a lot of interesting debate simply will never take place”.