The BBC has added its voice to criticism of SNP hate crime proposals, agreeing that they represent a serious threat to free speech.
Commenting on the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill in a submission to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, BBC Scotland said it:
“…strongly shares the concerns expressed by the Scottish Newspaper Society as to the impact on freedom of expression of this Bill and would align itself with that submission”.
The Scottish Newspaper Society submission labels draft ‘stirring up of hatred’ offences in Part 2 of the bill a “serious threat to freedom of expression in its broadest sense” which create the possibility for “grievances to move through the criminal justice system”.
The Committee also received evidence from Scotland’s top judges and sheriffs. The Senators of the College of Justice – which represents the country’s most senior judges – warned of inconsistency and ambiguity in Part 2 of the bill.
It noted that free speech provisions in clauses 11 and 12 of the Hate Crime Bill only apply to religion and sexual orientation, meaning speech on other categories listed under the bill, including age, disability and transgender identity, is not protected.
And it highlighted that a previous free speech clause in the, now repealed, Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was much more robust than the Hate Crime Bill provisions, allowing “expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse”.
The Sheriffs Association – which represents the country’s next tier of judiciary – also spoke out, warning that the ‘stirring up’ provisions could lead to problems in the legal process.
It stated: “Any criminal offence requires to be proved against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. However the use of the word ‘likely’ requires the decision-maker to carry out an exercise akin to as the balancing of probabilities…It will be exceptionally difficult to direct a jury on these matters”.
Religious organisations also issued strong statements against the Hate Crime Bill with the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland and Protestant Free Church of Scotland both warning of a threat to free expression and religious liberty.
Whilst the Hindu Forum of Great Britain described the ‘stirring up’ offences as “wholly unnecessary” and said the bill as it stands “protects less freedom of speech than the equivalent legislation in England and Wales”.
Spokesman for the Free to Disagree campaign Jamie Gillies commented:
“These submissions to the Justice Committee add more fuel to the fire currently raging beneath the Scottish Government’s hate crime proposals.
“Even the BBC – an organisation that tends to stay out of political disputes – has recognised the danger that these plans present to fundamental freedoms.
“It’s also notable that Scotland’s top legal minds have entered the fray, with both judges and sheriffs highlighting problems with ‘stirring up’ offences in Part 2 of the bill.
“The chorus of concern over the government’s plans has reached fever pitch. In order to satisfy critics and respect the free speech rights of all Scots, MSPs must oppose Part 2 of the bill.”
Issued on behalf of Free to Disagree by Tom Hamilton Communications. For media enquiries, contact:
Tel: 0141 639 8355
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Or Jamie Gillies:
Mob: 07761 506 732