The Scottish government has announced it will propose amendments to the Hate Crime Bill given the controversy it has sparked over freedom of speech.
Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, Simon Calvert has welcomed the Scottish government´s willingness to compromise, but has warned that many more changes are needed to ensure that freedom of speech is not affected by the bill.
He said: “This is a start and it is welcome as far as it goes. But the criticisms levelled at the legislation by institutions and individuals across Scotland are much more far-reaching, and so more changes are needed.”
The bill´s objective is to criminalise hate in different contexts, including religious ones, but it has faced widespread criticism as there are concerns that it would undermine freedom of speech.
The amendments proposed by the Scottish government would mean that any prosecution would need to demonstrate intent in order to secure a conviction for “stirring up hatred”, defined as “behaving in a threatening or abusive manner or communicating threatening or abusive material to another person".
Calvert goes on to highlight that the legislation falls short in several other areas.
“The Justice Secretary said nothing about how he will define the concept of hatred in a way that does not threaten freedom of speech.
“He has also left the stirring up offences reaching into homes, so you can be convicted over private conversations in your own home.
“Nor has he explained why similar legislation in the rest of the UK requires prosecutions to be signed off at the highest level, to try to avoid miscarriages of justice, whereas this bill will leave decisions with local procurators fiscal, risking a postcode lottery over free speech.
“Unless the Part 2 offences are amended further, they will continue to present a danger to freedom of speech.”