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New Scottish Hate Crime Bill "set to be a shambles", says MSP

Freedom of Speech
28 March 2024
Scottish Parliament Edinburgh

Scotland's new Hate Crime Bill has garnered significant criticism for its perceived threats to free speech and its vague definitions.

Due to be introduced on 1 April, the Bill seeks to criminalise threatening or abusive behaviour which is intended to stir up hatred based on certain characteristics including age, disability, sexual orientation, and transgender identity.

Critics argue that the Bill, which aims to consolidate existing laws, inadvertently expands governmental control, infringing on private conversations and increasing the potential for prosecutions for words spoken in private homes or on social media.

Susan Smith, director at the For Women Scotland campaign group, said: "It's a mess.

"Much of this is very vague as stirring up offences seems to be based on someone's perception that someone is being hateful towards them, and they can make a complaint and the police are saying they will investigate everything."

"There will be a lot of malicious reports," added Ms Smith. "We know that there are people out there who have lists of people they are looking to target. They are seeing this as an opportunity to settle scores and make political points."

This broadening of the legislation to include age, sexuality and disability has led to concerns over the subjective nature of what might constitute an offence, and therefore potentially paralysing freedom of speech.

Despite amendments and concessions by the Scottish government, including dropping some of the most contentious measures, the Bill remains a point of debate.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said police could be "swamped by completely malicious complaints" and innocent people would be investigated.

"People like JK Rowling could have police at their door every day for making perfectly reasonable statements," he said.

He went on to say that the law was a “disaster in the making” and was “set to be a shambles from day one, in just 11 days’ time.”

Critics, including those identifying as gender-critical feminists, demand clearer protections for discussions around sensitive topics.

Police officers in Scotland will be required to take part in a two-hour training course in preparation for enforcement, which some claim is not good enough.

David Kennedy, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, described it as a disaster waiting to happen.

He said, "I have real concerns that mistakes could be made. Officers are drained. We are not getting any extra resources to deal with this.

"Officers on night shift have a mandatory two-hour online training."

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