Humanists win key amendments in hate crime bill

November 25, 2020

Scottish Justice Minister Humza Yousaf announced that he will drop sections of the draft Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill that would have criminalised insulting religious beliefs under provisions aimed at stirring up hatred. The Bill will now protect people who show antipathy, dislike, ridicule and insult towards religious beliefs as part of their legitimate right to freedom of expression.

Humanists Society Scotland led a campaign to protect freedom of expression, supported by Humanists International and Humanists UK,  has welcomed this change. Under the new proposals, there is greater protection for freedom of expression then initially put forward by the Scottish Government with regards to stirring up offences.

These changes come just days after Humanist Society Scotland laid out its concerns to MSPs on the Justice Committee alongside writers groups, artists and journalists.

A prosecution would now need to prove that the offending expression is either threatening or abusive to meet the threshold of a hate crime, rather than merely insulting, and this will not apply in the context of a public performance. This follows a similar u-turn in September when plans to introduce a new stirring up offence if the perpetrator’s actions or conduct had been ‘perceived’ as inciting hostility were also dropped. This would have run counter to the internationally recognised legal standards on controlling hate speech, the UN Rabat Plan, which states any hate crime law must ensure intent is proven.

Humanist Society Scotland’s Chief Executive, Fraser Sutherland, commented:

We‌ ‌are‌ ‌pleased‌ ‌that the‌ ‌Scottish‌ ‌Government‌ ‌has‌ ‌engaged‌ ‌with‌ ‌us‌‌ ‌over our concerns ‌that‌ ‌this‌ ‌Bill‌ ‌would‌ ‌illegitimately‌ ‌curtail‌ ‌criticism‌ ‌of‌ ‌religious‌ ‌beliefs.‌ ‌We‌ ‌need‌ ‌to‌ ensure‌ ‌that‌ ‌any‌ ‌new‌ ‌hate‌ ‌crime‌ ‌provision‌ ‌in‌ ‌Scotland‌ ‌is‌ ‌in‌ ‌line‌ ‌with‌ ‌international‌ ‌standards‌ ‌on‌ tackling‌ ‌incitement‌ ‌and‌ ‌hatred.‌ ‌Changing‌ ‌the‌ ‌proposed‌ ‌provisions‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌criticism‌ ‌of‌ ‌religious‌ ‌belief‌ and‌ ‌the‌ ‌intent‌ ‌to‌ ‌stir‌ ‌up‌ ‌hatred‌ ‌is‌ ‌an‌ ‌important‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌achieving‌ ‌this‌ ‌goal.

Fraser Sutherland, Humanist Society Scotland

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