Justice Secretary confirms climbdown on hate crime bill
The Scottish Government will amend its Hate Crime and Public Order Bill following concerns about its impact on freedom of speech.
Humza Yousaf has confirmed the new offence of stirring up hatred against protected groups will only apply when someone intended to do so.
The lower threshold for an offence – that someone’s behaviour was ‘likely’ to stir up hatred – will be dropped from the proposed legislation.
The Justice Secretary told MSPs: “I hope this fundamental change will provide necessary reassurance that the new stirring up hatred offences strike an appropriate balance between respecting freedom of expression while protecting those impacted by people who set out to stir up hatred in others.”
Labour and the Lib Dems both welcomed the planned changes and the fact the announcement has been made before the Justice Committee begins its scrutiny.
However, the Scottish Conservatives remain concerned the problems with part two of the bill will limit scrutiny of the rest of it. The party previously lodged a motion calling for the bill to be scrapped.
Justice spokesperson Liam Kerr said: “The amendments proposed by the Justice Secretary today do not begin to go far enough and respondents will note he hasn’t actually admitted that the first draft is a threat to free speech.
“He makes no mention of the threshold for criminality with regards to ‘threatening’ or ‘abusive’, which represents a significant difference to the legislation south of the border. There’s still no protection for anything said in the privacy of your own home and the vague clauses on inflammatory material are not mentioned.”
Meanwhile, the Greens’ Patrick Harvie warned about the challenges of proving intention. He said: “We’ll risk a situation where very extreme actions which clearly stir up hatred will be legitimised on the basis that an accused can merely argue ‘my intention was something else.’”
The change has been welcomed by Victim Support Scotland, which called for it to allow for a “renewed focus on its overall purpose”.
Chief executive Kate Wallace said: “We know all too well the long lasting and devastating impact hate crime can have on people as it attacks a core part of their identity and is something that they have no control over. It not only negatively impacts individual victims, but whole communities and marginalised social groups.
“Victims of hate crime have waited a long time for these vital protections, they should not have to wait any longer. Now is the time for Scotland to come together to tackle hate crime.”