Fight to add protection for women to Hate Crime Bill goes to next stage

Former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has pledged to continue her fight to add sex as a protected characteristic to the controversial Hate Crime Bill when it reaches its final stage in Holyrood, after MSPs on the justice committee refused to back her amendment.
Johann Lamont has pledged to bring her amendment to the Hate Crime Bill back to Parliament.Johann Lamont has pledged to bring her amendment to the Hate Crime Bill back to Parliament.
Johann Lamont has pledged to bring her amendment to the Hate Crime Bill back to Parliament.

The MSP said she would lodge the amendment at stage three as she believes legislation that is expected to protect vulnerable people should include women.

The Scottish Government has rejected the addition of sex to the Hate Crime Bill and has instead established a working group to look at whether a separate criminal offence of misogyny could be introduced.

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The group is due to start its work this month, headed by Baroness Helena Kennedy, and is expected to report within a year.

However, Ms Lamont said that would leave women unprotected by any hate crime legislation and there was no assurance the group’s recommendations would be accepted by government in 12 months’ time.

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Addressing Holyrood’s justice committee, which was debating proposed amendments to the Bill, she said: “I feel very strongly that sometimes when you say something out loud there's a common-sense reaction you should listen to.

"We're being asked to accept that the Scottish Parliament wants to address hate in our society targeted at specific groups, but we want to exclude women from that legislation despite the fact that all the evidence shows that women experience misogyny and hatred in their lives at a level which everyone accepts is very serious.

“This is an issue that's exercised women and women’s groups and organisations, who are currently campaigning on this matter, for many years, and there's no explanation given on why women who daily experience hatred are not included in legislation which wants to give people further protections and to educate people about the corrosive nature of hatred in people’s behaviour.”

Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said he had consulted with stakeholders such as Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid and Zero Tolerance.

He said adding sex as an aggravator was not a “neutral act” and could do “harm” to women through “unintended consequences”.

“The Scottish Government recognises the importance of tackling misogyny and all forms of gender-based violence,” he said.

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“There are strong, and at times diverging views, on how this important matter should be tackled. On the surface, it seems appealing to include sex on the face of the Bill, it would make it clear that offences aggravated by malice and ill will towards individuals based on their sex is unacceptable, and some witnesses initially favoured this, but went on to change their minds as more evidence has been heard, and that additional evidence has persuaded me that this is an issue that needs further expert examination.”

“It's my view that the issue of misogyny is bigger than the hate crime framework”

The committee also saw amendments to defining transgender identity as “gender reassignment” withdrawn.

John Finnie, Scottish Greens MSP, said it would be “regressive and offensive” to change the definition and remove non-binary and cross-dressing people from being covered by hate crime.

Mr Yousaf also defended keeping cross-dressers within the Bill. He said: “I’m aware of suggestions cross-dressers are only included in the Bill under transgender identity because they're protected in current legislation, and while that’s important, they're also included because they experience hate crime.”

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