Hate Crime Bill tamed but concerns remain

Hate Crime Bill tamed but concerns remain

Humza Yousaf

A series of recommendations to the Hate Crime Bill made by Holyrood’s Justice Committee have been accepted by the Scottish government ahead of its stage 1 debate.

These include:

  • a strengthening of protection for freedom of expression provisions
  • ensuring the test of the term ‘abusive’ in the bill is an objective test
  • bringing within the bill’s hate crime framework the existing offence of racially aggravated harassment
  • proposing new limits on police powers of search and entry within the bill
  • In addition, and reflecting on concerns raised from some faith groups, artists, authors and others, the Scottish government will seek to remove entirely ‘Section 5’ from the bill which deals with offences relating to possession of inflammatory materials.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I am grateful to the committee for its detailed scrutiny and I welcome their support for the general principles of the bill.

“I have accepted the overwhelming majority of the recommendations from the committee and will bring forward amendments at stage 2 designed to, amongst other matters, strengthen protections for freedom of expression.

“Through the whole process I have listened to concerns raised and proposed amendments to be introduced at Stage 2 of the bill to address these concerns. That approach will not change. I will continue to listen to concerns members may have about any aspect of the bill and, where possible, will try and reach common ground.

“Confronting hate crime is central to building the safer, stronger and inclusive Scotland that we all want to see.

“Our plans to legislate will ensure the law is fit for the 21st century and the Stage 1 debate will provide the opportunity for MSPs to come together to support the general principles of this legislation to tackle hate crime, giving sufficient protection to those who need it.”

Scottish Conservative shadow justice spokesman, Liam Kerr, said: “While this climbdown by the SNP is welcome it is also long overdue and clearly does not go far enough.

“Tinkering is not going to fix this bill’s significant problems, which risk striking at the heart of freedom of speech.”

Spokesman for the Free to Disagree Campaign, Jamie Gillies, said: “We have two additional suggestions for the Cabinet Secretary – a prosecution lock and a dwelling defence.

“Adding these additional safeguards will bring the bill in line with other stirring up hatred laws in the rest of the UK.”

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