The problem with Scotland’s Hate Crime Bill – Murdo Fraser MSP

The Scottish Government needs to listen to critics of the Hate Crime Bill and withdraw parts of the proposed law that raise fears about freedom of speech, writes Murdo Fraser MSP

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has a big decision to make over the Hate Crime Bill (Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA Wire).
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has a big decision to make over the Hate Crime Bill (Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA Wire).

The consultation closed last week on the Scottish Government’s proposed new Hate Crimes Bill. I have written in the past about the concerns that have been raised about the impact this legislation, and particularly the proposals to bring in a new offence of “stirring up hatred” will have on free speech.

These concerns have now been taken up by a whole range of individuals and organisations – authors, journalists, lawyers, and women’s groups, and a new “Free to Disagree” campaign against the legislation has been launched, backed by a diverse range of organisations from the Christian Institute to the National Secular Society.

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Opponents of the Bill have highlighted recent comments by the author JK Rowling on the controversial issue of trans rights, pointing out that under this legislation she could well have faced prosecution for stating a biological fact.

There are many other examples of both controversial, and non-controversial, statements, comments, and publications, which could face challenge under this new law.

The Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, now has a choice to make. He can listen to all these voices and withdraw the troublesome parts of the Bill. Or he can plough ahead, and face the same reaction as there was to the ludicrous Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which was derided by lawyers, opposed across the political spectrum, and eventually repealed by the Scottish Parliament. Everyone knows that this is a bad law in the making. It must be stopped now before it goes any further.

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