Eleventh hour wrangling over Hate Crime Bill a cause for alarm, campaigners say


Campaigners have criticised a last-ditch attempt to fix free speech provisions in the Hate Crime Bill, days before a final vote on the contentious plans.

Free speech campaigners have described a last ditch attempt to fix freedom of expression (FoE) provisions in the Scottish Government’s controversial Hate Crime Bill as “deeply concerning” and urged MSPs to delay scrutiny of the proposals.

This afternoon, Holyrood’s Justice Committee held an emergency, 90-minute session on the content of FoE provisions in the bill, after deciding to abandon a series of amendments lodged at Stage 2 to “broaden and deepen” free speech protections in the bill as drafted.

A small group of witnesses were asked for their views on new ‘catch-all’ free speech provisions, produced by the Government and Committee MSPs behind closed doors, which would apply across the characteristics listed under the bill – age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics.

Four potential provisions have been suggested. Two would allow ‘discussion and criticism’ of all the characteristics listed. And two would permit ‘discussion and criticism’ of age, race, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics and also expressions of ‘antipathy, dislike, ridicule and insult’ on the grounds of religion.

A three-day call for views on the plans closed this morning. Commentators across the political spectrum criticised the call as a ‘pointless exercise’, given the narrow timeframe. Commenting on the situation, Jamie Gillies, spokesman for Free to Disagree said:

“It is deeply concerning that the shape of free speech protections in the Hate Crime Bill – perhaps the most fraught aspect of the proposals – is being decided in haste, days before a final Stage 3 vote that could see the bill become law.

“From day one, it has been obvious that robust free speech protections need to be written into the bill to make clear that new stirring up hatred offences do not undermine the right to freedom of expression afforded to all Scottish citizens.

“Holyrood must very carefully separate that which is criminal from that which is merely offensive, controversial or unorthodox. But none of the options before MSPs today provide the clarity that is required. Many feel that mere ‘discussion and criticism’ is not enough to protect free expression, particularly on contentious topics like transgender identity.

“In order to avoid an erosion of vital liberties and confusion amongst police and prosecutors trying to implement the new law, MSPs must come up with better freedom of expression provisions. Given the complexity of this task and the lack of time before Parliament breaks up, it’s our view that this will need to take place in the next session.”

“We call on MSPs in all parties who support freedom of expression to vote down the stirring up hatred proposals and call for more, sustained scrutiny involving a wide range of stakeholders.”


Notes for Editors:

The Free to Disagree campaign is supported by: Index on Censorship; Manifesto Club; Adam Smith Institute; Emma Webb, Civitas; Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner; Jim Sillars, former Deputy Leader, SNP; the National Secular Society; The Christian Institute; Network of Sikh Organisations; Freedom Association; Kapil Summan, Editor, Scottish Legal News; Dr Stuart Waiton, sociologist, Abertay University; Madeleine Kearns, journalist. See www.freetodisagree.scot

For more information contact:

Jamie Gillies: admin@freetodisagree.scot

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