Controversial hate crime bill passed at Holyrood
Critics have warned that the hate crime legislation passed yesterday at Holyrood will result in vexatious and malicious complaints.
MSPs passed the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill by 82 votes to 32.
SNP veteran Jim Sillars said he considers the hate crime proposals to be “one of the most pernicious and dangerous pieces of legislation ever produced by any government in modern times in any part of the United Kingdom” and that it would lead to frivolous complaints.
He said: “The new legislation is going to open up lots of people – who do not intend to direct hate at anyone – to find themselves being reported to the police for hate crimes. And there will be lots of malicious and vexatious complaints because most people are not lawyers and will tend to define hate crime as they see it, and not necessarily as the law sees it.”
Mr Sillars added: “The important thing is that this bill, when it becomes an Act, will ultimately be tested in court. I believe it is very badly flawed legislation. And so the definitions that Humza Yousaf has insisted on putting into this bill will be tested in the forensic forum of a court, and I believe that’s when suddenly all will be revealed about its flaws.
“The next campaign will be to repeal certain sections of this Act as being against the public interest. What is the fundamental public interest in a free democracy? The ability to think what you like and say what you like.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said that amendments made to the bill this week ensured free speech was protected and were strong enough to prevent criminalisation.
He said: “To those who think they may accidentally somehow fall foul of the law… because they believe sex is immutable, or they believe an adult man cannot become a female or they campaign for the rights of Palestinians… or those that proselytise that same-sex relationships are sinful, none of these people would fall foul of the stirring up of hatred offence for solely stating their belief – even if they did so in a robust manner.
“Why? Because solely stating any belief, which I accept may be offensive to some, is not breaching the criminal threshold.”
Policy analysis collective MurrayBlackburnMackenzie said in a statement that freedom of expression in relation to sex and gender identity had not been resolved since Labour MSP Johann Lamont’s amendment to add sex to the list of protected characteristics was rejected.
MBM said: “It would have put on the face of the act, that certain statements, in themselves, would not be viewed as criminally abusive or threatening, including the fact that sex is a physical binary characteristic that cannot be changed. But it was voted down.”
It added: “Under this new law people, particularly women, will face the risk of being reported to the police, simply for asserting that sex matters. The bill as it stands leaves those people without the type of direct means recommended by Lord Bracadale for resisting such complaints. And it leaves the police without a straightforward way to resist pressure to investigate them. How police discretion is expected to operate in this contested area of debate is wholly unclear.”
Free to Disagree spokesman Jamie Gillies warned that the law was another Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.
He said: “We all oppose hatred and prejudice. However, it has never been clear how, precisely, the new stirring up offences will counter hatred. There was no gap in the law to bridge. Good laws already exist to deal with threatening and abusive behaviour, incitement and breach of the peace. As laudable as the stirring up offences sound, they simply aren’t necessary and, ironically, they could do harm to, rather than improve, social cohesion in Scotland.
“The Hate Crime Bill could have been worse. Very significant changes were made early on and that is of some comfort. However, I do fear that we are seeing history repeating itself here. We have, in the Hate Crime Bill, another Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. It won’t work well in practice and it will have to be revisited down the line. That is surely not something that any parliamentarian should have entertained.”