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A controversial bill making its way through Scotland’s Parliament would criminalize hate speech even if the offending words were uttered in someone’s private home.
Members of the Scottish Parliament questioned Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf for the first time on Tuesday about the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill, which would establish a new crime, “stirring up hatred.”
The legislation criminalizes hate speech relating to age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics, including potentially hate speech spoken in private residences.
After criticism from groups saying the bill threatens to stifle free speech, Yousaf agreed to amend the legislation when it reaches stage two of consideration in Parliament. The amendment will stipulate that offenders may only be prosecuted if they had “intent” to stir up hatred. Yousaf also agreed to again examine protections for free speech in the bill.
“I’m very actively considering both the breadth and the depth of freedom-of-expression clauses,” the justice secretary said. “We have to be aware of some of the concerns that may be expressed if we were to have a generic freedom-of-expression clause, would that be specific enough to give people the reassurances that they desire?”
Several groups have sounded the alarm over the new legislation, including BBC Scotland, Catholic bishops, the Humanist Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation.
Glasgow Tory MSP Adam Tomkins, who is convener of the justice committee, cautioned during his questioning of Yousaf that the bill may take censorship of speech too far.
“When we are considering the scope of the criminal law in this Parliament, we’ve got to be careful not to under criminalize and also guard against over-criminalization and make sure we are not inadvertently rendering criminal that we think ought to be free to do,” Tomkins said.
Scottish Conservative Justice Spokesman Liam Kerr said the bill was initially “a mess” and “still contains serious issues that need to be fixed.”