More than 8 in 10 respondents to a Holyrood consultation want stronger free speech protections in the controversial Hate Crime Bill and just 1 in 10 are satisfied with the Scottish Government’s proposed protections, analysis by the Free to Disagree campaign shows.
On Monday, an eleventh-hour consultation by the Justice Committee on proposed new free speech protections in the Hate Crime Bill closed. More than 600 responses were received by the Committee in just four days, and 185 were published online. Of the published responses from members of the public and organisations, 157 (84.86 per cent) stressed the need for stronger safeguards than those on offer. Only 24 (12.97 per cent) were happy with the proposed options. Not one response called for narrower protections.
Earlier this month, the Scottish Government withdrew a specific free speech amendment covering transgender identity after a backlash from trans activists. It then tabled four options for a new ‘catch-all’ free speech clause, covering all the characteristics listed under the Hate Crime Bill: age, disability, race and nationality, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. All four options are significantly narrower than the bill as drafted and the previous free speech amendments lodged.
Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Free to Disagree campaign, commented:
“The response to this call for views suggests major disquiet about the shape of freedom of expression provisions in the Hate Crime Bill. The free speech clauses on offer are narrower in scope than they might have been had previous amendments been agreed to, and narrower in some ways than those in the bill as introduced.
“It’s vital that strong, clear and specific free speech protections are written into the bill. Legislators must draw a clear line between that which is criminal and that which is merely offensive. Good free speech protections will do this, provide guidance to the police and offer reassurance to the public at large.”
Mr Gillies added: “It’s alarming that the content of free speech provisions in the Hate Crime Bill – a vital aspect of the plans – is still uncertain, two weeks before a final Stage 3 vote. With time quickly running out, it would be wise for Parliament to delay these proposals.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org