Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, ‘reflecting on concerns raised from some faith groups, artists, authors and others’. Above, the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
By Democrat reporter
The Scottish Government has responded to the Justice Committee’s Stage 1 report on the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.
The overwhelming majority of the Committee’s recommendations have been accepted by the Scottish Government ahead of the Stage 1 debate. These include:
- a strengthening of protection for freedom of expression provisions
- ensuring the test of the term ‘abusive’ in the Bill is an objective test
- bringing within the Bill’s hate crime framework the existing offence of racially aggravated harassment
- proposing new limits on Police powers of search and entry within the Bill
In addition, and reflecting on concerns raised from some faith groups, artists, authors and others, the Scottish Government will seek to remove entirely ‘Section 5’ from the Bill which deals with offences relating to possession of inflammatory materials.
However, Scottish LibDem spokesperson on Justice, Liam McArthur, claims the Bill is “riddled wsith problems”.
He said: “The bill presented to parliament by the Scottish Government was riddled with problems. Vague language, blurred boundaries and inadequate protections for freedom of expression led to serious and legitimate concerns being voiced by almost every group with an interest in the bill.
“Thanks to pressure from Scottish Liberal Democrats and others, the Justice Secretary has already made significant concessions, notably restricting the ‘stirring up’ provisions.
“However, as welcome as these concessions undoubtedly are, there is much work still to do in addressing fundamental concerns. I am determined, for example, to see further protections provided for freedom of expression and will bring forward amendments at Stage 2.
Scottish LibDem justice spokesperson Liam McArthur, MSP.
“The Justice Committee has worked hard and collaboratively to produce a Stage 1 report that hopefully goes some way to reflecting and allaying many of the concerns raised by witnesses. In the fight to tackle hate crime, parliament must avoid passing legislation that has dangerous, unintended consequences and ultimately makes that fight even more difficult.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I am grateful to the Committee for its detailed scrutiny and I welcome their support for the general principles of the Bill.
“I have accepted the overwhelming majority of the recommendations from the Committee and will bring forward amendments at Stage 2 designed to, amongst other matters, strengthen protections for freedom of expression.
“Through the whole process I have listened to concerns raised and proposed amendments to be introduced at Stage 2 of the Bill to address these concerns. That approach will not change. I will continue to listen to concerns members may have about any aspect of the Bill and, where possible, will try and reach common ground.
“Confronting hate crime is central to building the safer, stronger and inclusive Scotland that we all want to see.
“Our plans to legislate will ensure the law is fit for the 21st century and the Stage 1 debate will provide the opportunity for MSPs to come together to support the general principles of this legislation to tackle hate crime, giving sufficient protection to those who need it.”
The Faculty of Advocates welcomed announcement of a significant change to the legislation around the new stirring up offences.
The Hate Crime Bill was introduced to Parliament for consideration following the independent review of Scotland’s hate crime legislation carried out by Lord Bracadale and has received support in principle from a number of organisations including Victim Support Scotland, the Equality Network and BEMIS.
The Justice Secretary’s announcement of a significant change to the legislation around the new stirring up offences was widely welcomed, including by the Faculty of Advocates, the Law Society of Scotland, Humanist Society Scotland and the Scottish Police Federation.
The Justice Secretary announced further amendments to the Bill at the Scottish Parliament on 24 November in relation to section 4 of the Bill that deals with public performance of plays, and the intention of the Scottish Government to seek to remove this section at Stage 2.