Freedom of expression amendments to hate crime bill put on hold
The Scottish Government and opposition parties have agreed to continue talks about freedom of expression elements of the hate crime bill.
It follows concern about the impact of some of the amendments proposed to the legislation on the transgender community.
The Justice Committee considered stage two amendments to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill at its meeting on Tuesday.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf had originally proposed an amendment seeking to protect “discussion or criticism of matters relating to transgender identity”, provided the behaviour was not threatening or abusive.
But campaigners, including Stonewall Scotland, had warned singling out some protected characteristics in this way could create the impression that “discussion or criticism of these groups is more justifiable”.
Yousaf confirmed he would not seek to push through his amendment on Twitter yesterday. Instead a stage three amendment is expected to be tabled to strengthen the freedom of expression provisions in the bill.
Speaking at the committee, Yousaf said he hoped to work collaboratively with other parties to find a solution that “gives both comfort to those concerned about free speech, but also protects communities from hatred”.
He added: “Nothing in this bill stops robust debate or indeed criticism of such policy as the Gender Reform Act proposals and indeed any other policy being put forward, so long as that behaviour of course does not cross the line into being threatening or abusive, and intended to stir up hatred.”
Committee members welcomed the recognition on the need for more clarity.
Convener Adam Tomkins said: “The events of the last few days, the reaction to the amendments that have been put down in this group with regard to transgender identity, make it just even more obvious and apparent that we absolutely must define what we mean.”
But he also said he would have supported the amendment put forward by the cabinet secretary, adding: “I have been disturbed by the reaction I’ve seen to what I thought were really quite modest, innocent and perfectly reasonable amendments.”
Meanwhile, Green MSP John Finnie warned getting this section of the bill wrong would “embolden would-be perpetrators”.
He said: “Words are important. They’re important because we want to see robust provision of freedom of expression, but we also want to see clarity about hate crime. We want there to be no dubiety as to what constitutes that.
“There’s no doubt that if we get this wrong, there’s a danger that we embolden would-be perpetrators, reinforcing the idea that LGBTI people are, for some reason, less valuable.”