Time is running out Nicola! SNP urged to make changes to controversial hate crime bill
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Members of the Holyrood’s Justice Committee are due to begin scrutiny of the new law after returning from October’s break and have urged Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to clarify whether the Scottish Government will make changes to the legislation. Adam Tomkins MSP, the convener of the Committee, insisted it is “really important” that any changes are declared before the October recess comes to an end.
Mr Yousaf has acknowledged there are “legitimate concerns”, promising MSPs these will be addressed in the upcoming months.
The committee is due to begin scrutiny of the Bill at Stage One, in which the general principles of the legislation are considered.
But Tory, Professor Tomkins said: “We want all of that to be done and be as straightforward as possible before the committee starts work on its Stage One inquiry which will be pretty much immediately after the October recess.
“We absolutely want to have a Stage One inquiry into legislation which the Government is proposing, not into legislation which the Government used to be proposing and has now changed its mind about.”
MSPs have already received nearly 2,000 written views concerning the new legislation, with some critics branding the Bill “the most contentious in Holyrood’s history”.
BBC Scotland, Catholic Bishops, Humanist Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation are amongst those who have raised concerns, along with Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson and writer Val McDermid.
The part of the legislation that has caused the most uproar is the plan to create a new crime of “stirring up hatred” against protected groups.
“Stirring up hatred”, which is defined as “behaving in a threatening or abusive manner, or communicating threatening or abusive material to another person”, can be done with intention or “where it is likely consequence that hatred will be stirred up against [protected] group”.
Opponents of the bill have voiced concerns the definition of “stirring up hatred” is too unclear and is left open to interpretation.
It has been argued the legislation could also put an end to comedian’s jokes as they could face prosecution.
The Catholic Church has also voiced concerns claiming the new legislation could lead to censorship of their teachings or even criminalizing the Bible under the new laws on possessing “inflammatory material”.
The same law could be used to prosecute libraries and bookshops for stocking books that are considered offensive, opponents claim.
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However, other organisations such as Equality Network and Victim Support Scotland, have spoken in favour of the bill.
Commenting on the high volume of responses regarding the legislation, Mr Tomkins said: “It is unambiguously a good thing that the people of Scotland are engaging actively in law-making with the Scottish Parliament.
“The extent to which we want to legislate to criminalise hateful expression in a liberal society that continues to adhere to the values of freedom of speech is obviously not a straightforward matter.
“It is a matter on which reasonable people may reasonably disagree.”
He added: “Of course the stirring up offences are the single biggest issue in terms of volume of responses and in terms of heat generated, but when the committee looks at the Bill it will look at the whole of the Bill.
“My attitude towards it will be to try to take down the temperature as much as possible and just shine as much light as possible on the Hate Crime Bill.”
A Scottish Government spokesman, said: “The Justice Secretary has indicated that he is willing to find a compromise and common ground and that potential changes to the Bill will be seriously considered to address concerns.
“All MSPs should now continue to work to send a clear message that hateful behaviour has no place in modern Scotland.”
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