HOPE has grown within the Irish community after news that controversial proposed legislation will now be amended by the Scottish Government.
There has been apprehension from within the community, and from groups such as Call It Out, that the Hate Crime Bill would limit freedom of speech and leave acts of expression open to prosecution, while a broad range of legal and political voices have also added their criticism of the proposed legislation.
The climbdown was announced by Justice Minister Humza Yousaf, who recognised the risks contained within the Bill and spoke of the criticism it has received.
“I have listened to and reflected carefully on concerns raised over the bill, particularly over the operation of the new stirring up hatred offences and concerns that these offences do not require that the accused intended to stir up hatred,” Mr Yousaf said. “I recognise that there is a real risk that if the offences don’t require intent to stir up hatred, people may self-censor their activities through a perception that the operation of this aspect of the offences may be used to prosecute what are entirely legitimate acts of expression.The Scottish Government will therefore lodge stage 2 amendments to the bill to make the new stirring up hatred offences ‘intent only.’
This news has been welcomed by a wide range of groups—including the Faculty of Advocates—and raises hopes that the most serious reservations will be tackled, however the Scottish Conservatives continue to raise opposition to the bill and accused the government of ‘tinkering.’
“The most controversial piece of legislation in Scottish Parliament history won’t be fixed by tinkering around the margins,” Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr MSP said. “Our fundamental right to freedom of speech remains under threat.”
Despite this threat, Mr Yousaf spoke for the reassurance that he hopes will come form the government’s watering down of their bill.
“I hope this fundamental change will provide necessary reassurance that the new stirring up hatred offences strike an appropriate balance between respecting freedom of expression while protecting those impacted by people who set out to stir up hatred in others,” he said. “I am keen to find common ground and will look at other areas of the bill for possible reform, in doing so we will of course engage with stakeholders and opposition as the bill goes through the usual parliamentary scrutiny.
“I am confident that, going forward, the debate around the bill will help build consensus on how we effectively tackle hate crime and how we can keep working together to ensure Scotland is an inclusive and forward thinking society.”