Where are we at with the Scottish Government’s highly controversial Hate Crime bill? There’s so much going on before Christmas, not only in our lives, but in the parliamentary timetable that I just want to take stock for a minute.
April came and the Scottish Government’s hate crime bill was published amidst the surge of coronavirus. It is an extremely ambitious bit of work, trying to bring various parts of legislation under a large umbrella whilst seeking to crackdown on crimes of hate.
The Government wishes to address the fact that in 2019 there were 5,611 hate crimes committed in Scotland, crimes aggravated around our differences with one another: race, sexual orientation, religious faith, disability, and transgender.
The responses submitted to the Justice Committee about the nature of the bill, on the other hand, caught the attention of both the Government and the Committee: around 2000 responses is a signal that convenor of the Justice Committee dubbed “unprecedented”.
It is striking to note the sheer range of organisations across Scottish society who have sprung into action to oppose this bill in their written and oral evidence: The Faculty of Advocates, the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Police Federation, the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative Party, Engender, the Scottish Newspaper Society, some high profile actors/media presenters, the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, The Scottish Secular Society, lots of Churches and other faith groups, to name but a few.
What Happens Next?
Next up is a report which the Justice committee will write and the committee sought reassurances from the Justice Secretary, Mr Yousaf, that the Scottish Government will respond to that report in a timely manner to MSPs can consider both the report and the government’s reply before the vote. MSPs will get to vote YES/NO at Stage 1 of the bill on December 15th. This is all moving really fast now!
Key Concerns Remain
Amidst everything, two aspects of the bill are causing us alarm:
(i) ‘the stirring up hatred’ clause – that anyone, even a third party eavesdropper, need only be offended or insulted by someone’s opinion and thus be deemed a criminal of hate. No actual acts of malice or ill-will need be performed to breach the hate crime threshold. Put simply, if you don’t like my opinion you can claim that you have become the next victim of hate crime. What happens to out of fashion views in such a case? If the Government doesn’t change this, Scotland is moving towards a monochrome society, where only one opinion is countenanced. But whose opinion?
(ii) Lack of a ‘Dwelling defence’ – that such subjective umbridge can happen will even extend to what is heard in people’s homes. Your back garden guest could recall what they’ve been miffed by to the Police and brandish it as an act of hate, which will potentially leave you in hot bother. Mr Yousaf has left such protection out of the Hate Crime bill that’s on the table. What we’re witnessing is nothing short of a Philip Dick novel (see the film ‘Minority Report’ with Tom Cruise).