A hate crime bill in Scotland is stirring up controversy after the Justice Secretary said “hate speech” in the home must be prosecuted.
“Are we comfortable giving a defense to somebody whose behaviour is threatening or abusive which is intentionally stirring up hatred against, for example, Muslims? Are we saying that that is justified because that is in the home?” Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said, according to The Times.
Artists and journalists could also be in trouble should the bill become law, with Yousaf saying they shouldn’t be able to stoke tensions under the guise of free speech.
“We wouldn’t want to give the likes of Tommy Robinson a defense by saying that he’s ‘a blogger who writes for The Patriot Times so my reasonable defense is that I am a journalist.”
The Hate Crime and Public Order Bill is in stage one in the Scottish Parliament. The bill introduces new hatred offenses for characteristics like disability, sexual orientation and age, according to The National.
Yousaf said the Scottish government will include an amendment in the second stage that would mean an offender would have to intentionally stir up hatred to be prosecuted after free speech groups complained the laws would severely restrict free expression, per the same report.
The change comes after the original bill had a lower threshold that would nab offenders whose behavior was “likely to” stir up hatred, according to The Times.
Conversations over the dinner table that incite hatred must be prosecuted under Scotland’s hate crime law, the justice secretary Humza Yousaf has said https://t.co/0FBmwUDOX8
— The Times Scotland (@thetimesscot) October 28, 2020
Other new offenses that could become law in Scotland include “possessing inflammatory material” which covers people who “have in their possession threatening, abusive or insulting material with a view to communicating the material to another person,” according to BBC.
However, free speech advocates argued that the definition of “stirring up hatred” is too vague and could lead to people being prosecuted for simple jokes, per BBC. (RELATED: Textbook Crackdown: Hong Kong Publishers Allegedly Told To Alter Textbooks)
Earlier this month The Scottish Police Federation warned the bill “could lead to police officers determining free speech and thereby devastate the legitimacy of the police service,” BBC reported.
General Secretary Calum Steele agreed with the federation’s sentiment, noting the bill could “cost” free speech.
“We do not for one second suggest that prejudice, racism or discrimination are desirable qualities in our society but the need to address those matters when they reach a criminal level is met by laws already in place and the cost to free speech of going further with this bill is too high a price to pay for very little gain,” Steele said, per the same report.
The Law Society of Scotland also voiced similar concerns over the “lack of clarity” that could “lead to restrictions in freedom of expression, one of the foundations of a democratic society” back in July.
Amanda Miller, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said the bill could be risky.
“We have real concerns that certain behaviour, views expressed, or even an actor’s performance, which might well be deemed insulting or offensive, could result in a criminal conviction under the terms of the Bill as currently drafted.”
However, Yousaf said he is open to expanding protections of free speech to cover all the protected characteristics in the bill as well as protections for acts that express “antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insults,” per The National.
“I’m very actively considering both the breadth and the depth of freedom–of–expression clauses. We have to be aware of some of the concerns that may be expressed if we were to have a generic freedom–of–expression clause, would that be specific enough to give people the reassurances that they desire?” Yousaf asked.
“We’re looking at all those issues in the round, I would anticipate some further change around the freedom-of–expression clause probably coming at stage two, be it from members or possibly from the Government, but it is an area under active consideration,” he said, according to The National.