SNP SHAMED: Criticising Brexit could be BANNED in controversial new hate bill
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Community Justice Scotland, who advises the Scottish Government on reoffending, claims the Bill would criminalize ‘inflammatory language’ in terms of strong political views. The Bill, which aims to reduce hate-related incidents, has attracted criticism from BBC Scotland, Catholic bishops, the Humanist Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation, along with Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson and writer Val McDermid.
Holyrood’s Justice Committee, which is soon set to scrutinise the Bill, has already received some 2,000 submissions in response to its call for views.
This high level of responses led some opponents to brand the Nats Bill the most contentious in the Scottish Parliament’s history.
Criticism of the Bill has centred around plans for a new offence of “stirring up hatred”, with opponents concerned that this will stifle freedom of expression.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf introduced The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, which looks to extend the law on ‘hate crime’ covering sexual orientation and religion.
The law, when passed by Holyrood, will mean words or behaviour considered to be “abusive” and “likely” to stir up hatred would constitute an offence.
Community Justice Scotland, in their submission to the Justice Committee, said the Bill “does not clearly define what is meant by ‘hate’”.
They added: “Nor indeed is there much in the Bill that relates to ‘public order’, both of which are in the title of the Bill.
“We would wish to highlight the danger of criminalising language that is in common use in some of our communities without providing the necessary public education and awareness campaigns to change such attitudes and behaviours, which can often be intergenerational.
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“This is further complicated by the current political climate and the sometimes inflammatory language which is widely reported in the media, e.g. such as that arising from the Brexit debate.
“When the language and actions of those in positions of public leadership can reinforce attitudes that may be viewed as encouraging hate then it may be unreasonable to expect the wider public to be clear as to what constitutes acceptable language and behaviour.
“This highlights a tension between stirring up hatred and notions of free speech which are complex.”
Liam Kerr MSP, Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson, said: “The SNP need to listen to all these concerns from so many areas of public life.
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“We can’t allow a situation where a government could criminalise everyday speech, by well-meaning people engaging in normal debate.”
However, Mr Yousaf told the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday that the Bill will only cover offences where the stirring up of hatred is intended.
The Justice Secretary said he is open to continued dialogue on the Bill and added: “I am confident that, going forward, the debate around the Bill will help to build consensus on how we effectively tackle hate crime, and how we can keep working together on building an inclusive and just Scotland.”
But Mr Kerr said the amendments do not go far enough, and he called for further changes to protect free speech and comments made in a person’s private home.
The Scottish Tory justice representative also asked why the stirring up offences were not scrapped to allow the Bill as a whole to progress.
Mr Yousaf said the change to intent only would mitigate the concerns raised around the Bill and would mean other parts of the proposed legislation, such as protections of free speech, can now be addressed.
A Scottish Government spokesman disputed the claims made by Community Justice Scotland claiming it would affect political opinion.
They added: “This Bill does not prevent people expressing controversial, challenging or offensive views nor does it seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate in any way.
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