MSPs seek public views on new hate crime laws
MSPs are asking if the new Bill is supported by the public, including groups who may be directly impacted by the law, or whether parts should be changed.
The new Bill adds age to the list of characteristics which already receive extra protections from hate crimes, including disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity, and leaves open the possibility to add “sex” at a later date so misogynistic harassment can become a standalone offence.
In Scotland, offences are currently aggravated by prejudice against a victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or their transgender status. If passed by the Scottish Parliament, the new Hate Crime Bill will also make “stirring up of hatred” extend to all the characteristics, rather than just against race. The proposals also abolish the common law offence of blasphemy.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has already been forced to defend the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill on Twitter, after concerns were raised that it would criminalise people who objected to government policies, such as the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Mr Yousaf described fears as “absolute baloney”.
Justice committee convener, Margaret Mitchell, said: “Offences motivated by hatred or prejudice have been more harshly treated by courts for a number of years, and committee members broadly support extra protections for vulnerable groups.
“Certainly aspects of this Bill, such as bringing together the various different laws into one place seem eminently sensible, and a way to remove anomalies.
“However, this Bill needs careful consideration. While there are clear cut examples of hate crimes, there are also trickier cases.
“Making sure the law strikes the right balance, protecting those who fall victim to crime because of the prejudice of others while also protecting the freedom of thought and expression of all citizens, is the task that lies before us.
“These issues are not easy or straightforward and will outlast the current Covid-19 pandemic. It is crucial that they get the close attention and parliamentary scrutiny they deserve.
“The committee wants to hear from Scottish society about whether they agree this Bill the best way to achieve those aims. Does it give the right protections, are any groups overlooked, or could there be any unintended consequences? These are the issues we want to look at in depth as we examine this new legislation.”
The call for public views is open until July 24 and the committee will then decide how to operate the Stage One scrutiny of the Bill while the Parliament is in lockdown.
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