The Scottish Government's Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill aims to repeal ancient blasphemy laws and adds to the list of groups that are currently specifically protected by hate crime laws. The Bill also creates a new offence of stirring up hatred.
At CARE, we have serious concerns about aspects of the proposed legislation, in particular the damaging effects it could have on free speech in Scotland.
MSPs are due to vote on the general principles of the hate crime bill on 15 December. This is a simple yes/no vote and further scrutiny comes at later stages.
What’s the problem?
There are a number of very serious problems with the bill. Here are the main issues:
- The wording in the bill is very vague and open to misrepresentation. For example, the offence of 'stirring up hatred' is build around the concepts of what is 'threatening, abusive or insulting' which are subjective in nature and difficult to define.
- The proposed new offence of 'stirring up hatred' is deeply troubling and vaguely worded.
- The free speech protections are inadequate and as such, Christians could find themselves censored for holding orthodox, Christian beliefs.
- Public Order Acts usually contain a ‘dwelling defence’, which protects you from prosecution over views expressed in your own home. There is no such defence in the Hate Crime Bill.
- There are questions over the definition of ‘inflammatory material’ and whether the Bible would be included under this term.
Across Scotland, people are speaking out, from lawyers and police officers, to campaigners and actors. Free Speech is a precious liberty and it should be protected.
While the Scottish Government has responded by promising some changes to the Bill, we do not feel these go far enough.
Contact your MSPs about the Hate Crime Bill
Please find below a list of some suggested points to make to your MSPs. You do not have to use all of them and we would strongly encourage you to use your own words.
Here are some points we suggest you make in your email/letter to your MSPs. Read the summary of our submission to the Justice Committee on the Bill for additional ideas of points to make.
- Say you think the Scottish Government should abandon the bill and work to strengthen the existing laws, for example, by focusing on aggravated offences rather than introducing new and self-standing offences.
- Point out that if the bill was to be adopted, the Scottish Government must ensure that the language is clear and concise and avoids any vague phrases such as 'insult' and 'insulting' which can be easily abused to silence opinions that one does not agree with.
- You could also say that if the bill was to be adopted, the Scottish Government must ensure that the laws relate back to the threshold of 'malice and ill-will' rather than any lower threshold.
- Ask your MSPs to work to strengthen the protection of freedom of speech, in Clauses 11 and 12, to ensure a more comprehensive protection that can effectively mitigate the risk of the laws being abused to curtail freedom of speech.
- Point out that there is no ‘dwelling defence’ in the bill which opens the door to individuals being prosecuted for views expressed in their own home.
- Say you think Parliament should amend the bill to introduce a monitoring mechanism to provide regular reviews of the effects of the laws, challenges faced and propose changes to address them.