Peer blasts SNPs hate crime bill for ‘meddling in people’s private lives’

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Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf who brought forward the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, says it will introduce a stirring-up of hate offences on characteristics including disability, sexual orientation and age. The legislation is currently being examined by Holyrood’s Justice Committee but critics fear the Bill centres around plans for a new offence of “stirring up hatred”, which will severely impact on freedom of expression.

Former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell claimed the legislation should be ditched branding it creepy.

The former veteran North East Fife MP, who now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Campbell of Pittenweem told this publication: “This is yet another example of the creeping interference in people’s personal lives and liberties from the SNP.

“Existing legislation is more than adequate to prevent abuse.

“Only the SNP want to ignore the lawyers, the police and civil society in persisting with this proposal.

 

“It is hard to understand what Humza Yousaf’s motives are, other than a determination to exercise control over individuals.”

He joins more than 2,000 people or organisations to express their views on the laws which the Scottish Conservatives branded the “most controversial since devolution began” in 1999.

Among organisations to slam the Bill include the Scottish Police Federation, the Catholic Church in Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland, along with groups including the Free to Disagree campaign.

Baron Campbell said the only conclusion he could make from the SNP demands to push ahead with the legislation that they didn’t believe in “individual freedoms.”

He stressed ministers should realise when they are “in the hole, stop digging” giving previous examples when SNP legislation eroded civil liberties.

One example was the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was introduced in 2012 and made it a criminal offence for football fans to discriminate against certain traits such as religion, ethnic identity, class, or region at matches.

However, it was scrapped in 2018 following severe concerns over freedom of speech and claims it unfairly targeted Scottish football fans.

Holyrood’s Justice Committee heard evidence this week from faith and belief groups on Tuesday as it examines the Hate Crime Bill.

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Some expressed concerns about the definition of “inflammatory” material under the new law, with fears certain religious texts could be caught up in it.

Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (ScoJec), told the committee he believes this could provide a defence in cases of Holocaust denial.

He said: “I think that the amendment that was announced by the Cabinet Secretary is retrograde, it essentially provides a get out of jail free card for something that you’ll see very often in hate-filled posts on the internet.

“That people having posted their hatred will end their comments with ‘just saying’ or ‘just asking’.

“They are now given a get out of jail free card because they could just say ‘oh we didn’t intend to cause offence, we were merely asking a question about whether the Holocaust happened’.”

Other aspects of the Bill deal with “possession of inflammatory material”, which some religious groups fear might include certain religious texts and lead to malicious complaints.

Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said: “We’ve given the example before of the Catholic understanding of the human person and the belief that gender is not fluid and changeable.

“And that might be something that could be considered inflammatory by some people and lead to a police investigation.”

Isobel Ingham-Barrow, head of policy at the Muslim Engagement and Development organisation, said there is a need for “clear definition and guidelines as to what content is inflammatory”.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf recently changed the controversial “stirring up” offences section of the hate crime bill but many still believe the changes don’t go far enough.

“Stirring up offences” are set to be limited to “intent” relating to age, disability, religion, and sexual orientation and therefore prosecutions can only be brought in this respect.

The Scottish Government, however, have denied the claims stressing ideas were “completely unfounded and totally incorrect.”

They stressed: “The Bill does not prevent people expressing religious views nor does it seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate in any way.

“The law should protect vulnerable groups and minorities while respecting rights of freedom of expression and this Bill – which follows an independent, judge-led review and is backed by a number of organisations – will increase confidence in policing to those communities affected by hate crime.”

 

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