SNP’s new hate crime law could see people prosecuted for expressing views in OWN HOMES

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MSPs questioned Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf over the controversial legislation during an evidence session before the Holyrood Justice Committee for the first time today. The new proposed legislation will introduce a stirring-up of hate offence on characteristics including disability, sexual orientation and age.

However critics fear the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill, which centres around plans for a new offence of “stirring up hatred”, will stifle freedom of expression.

BBC Scotland, Catholic bishops, the Humanist Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation are amongst those to have raised concerns, along with Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson and writer Val McDermid.

Because of this, Mr Yousaf was forced to amend the legislation and change the controversial “stirring up” offences section which has been condemned by opponents.

It now means “stirring up offences” would be limited to “intent” relating to age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics and therefore prosecutions could only be brought in this respect.

During today’s session, Glasgow Tory MSP and Committee Convenor Adam Tomkins questioned the Scottish Justice Secretary on how you can commit an offence of public order in private.

It comes after Mr Yousaf suggested during the committee session that he would be in favour of the stirring up offences applying inside home dwellings.

Mr Tomkins continued: “When we are considering the scope of the criminal law in this Parliament, we’ve got to be careful not to under criminalise and also guard against overcriminalisation and make sure we are not inadvertently rendering criminal that we think ought to be free to do.”

Liam Kerr MSP, Scottish Conservative Justice Spokesman, added: “The Hate Crime Bill was a mess when the SNP first brought it to parliament and it still contains serious issues that need to be fixed.

“Tinkering around the margins will not fix the most controversial bill in Scottish Parliament history.

“This latest admission from the justice secretary confirms what so many respondents to the consultation have warned – that as drafted, this Bill means free speech could be criminalised within the home with friends you’ve invited over for a dinner party, and that Mr Yousaf is perfectly comfortable with that.

“The SNP need to be clear with the Scottish public about exactly what they intend this Hate Crime Bill to do.

“They can’t keep trying to force through dangerous attacks on freedom of speech.”

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At the same time, it emerged the Scottish Government failed to consult court officials on the controversial laws with the Scottish Tories claiming they were “left in the dark” until the last minute.

But Mr Yousaf defended the legislation rejecting claims the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) were not consulted.

He added: “The point of stirring up offences and the reason why I think we need these offences is their effect is or could be to motivate people who carry out acts of hatred, violence, assaults and so on against members of groups who belong to particular communities (interruption).

“What it does is if you’re stirring up religious hatred against Jews, with the intent of stirring up hatred in your private dwelling with your children in the room, with friends you’ve invited over for a dinner party if they then act upon that hatred and commit offences that would be prosecuted by the law, should the person who with the intent of stirring up hatred if their behaviour was threatening or abusive, should that person not be culpable? Should they not receive criminal sanction?”

The Justice Secretary stressed the Scottish Government is willing to look again at protections of free speech in the legislation.

Mr Yousaf said he would be open to expanding protections of freedom of speech to cover all of the protected characteristics in the Bill – as only statements made against people on the grounds of their religion or sexual orientation are currently covered.

He also said he would consider broadening protections to acts that express “antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insults”.

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