Coalition of artists, authors, journalists and campaigners call for changes to hate crime bill

  • Over 20 individuals and organisations from the world of arts, journalism, literature, comedy, politics and human rights advocacy highlight need to protect free expression in joint open letter
  • The letter highlights concern over the Bill’s proposal to not require proof of intent over proposed stirring up offences
  • They write that the “well-meaning bill” could “have unintended consequences” that result in “stifling free expression”
  • Writers and artists including Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre and Elaine C Smith join the letter co-ordinated by Humanist Society Scotland

A joint open letter published today (Tuesday 11th August) gathers support from over 20 individuals and organisations highlighting their “concerns” over the impact on artistic expression and free expression of the draft Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.

The letter co-ordinated by Humanist Society Scotland has support from authors Val McDermid, Chirs Brookmyre and Alan Bissett alongside arts administrators Dame Seona Reid and the artistic director of Dundee Rep, Andrew Paton. They join Cartoonists Rights International and academics such as Prof AC Grayling and Prof Timothy Garden Ash alongside many others.

A photo of Fraser Sutherland from 2019

Fraser Sutherland

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland said:

“The Bill as proposed has behind it some sound intentions, however it is clear from the broad support to our joint letter that concerns remain about poorly drafted provisions. The failure of the Bill to require intent to be proven in court on some offences risks a significant chilling effect on free expression.

“This is why the UN Rabat Plan has six tests on controlling hate speech including that any laws must ensure intent is proven. This strikes a sensible balance between protecting individuals from hate crime and protecting freedom of expression and the Bill needs amending to properly achieve this.”

Joint letter text and signatories

We represent a diverse group of individuals and organisations concerned about the impact on freedom of expression of the proposed Hate Crime and Public Order Bill as currently drafted. 

We welcome the provisions to consolidate existing aggravated hate crimes and the repeal of the blasphemy law. 

However, the Bill creates stirring up offences without any intent being examined; merely that the words, action, or artwork might do so. This offence could even be applied to being in possession of materials produced by someone else, where sharing the material could stir up hatred.

The unintended consequences of this well meaning Bill risk stifling freedom of expression, and the ability to articulate or criticise religious and other beliefs. 

As currently worded, the Bill could frustrate rational debate and discussion which has a fundamental role in society including in artistic endeavour. The arts play a key part in shaping Scotland’s identity in addition to being a significant economic contributor.

The right to critique ideas, philosophical, religious and other must be protected to allow an artistic and democratic society to flourish.

Signed,

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK
Scottish PEN
Index on Censorship
Chris Brookmyre, Novelist
Val McDermid, Writer
Elaine C Smith, Actor and Comedian
Dame Seona Reid, Arts Administrator
Alan Bissett, Playwright and Novelist
Ruth Wishart, Journalist and Broadcaster
Andrew Panton, Artistic Director Dundee Rep / Joint CEO Dundee Rep & Scottish Dance Theatre Ltd
Prof. Maggie Kinloch, Theatre Director & Chair Humanist Society Scotland
Ariane Sherine, Comedian and Journalist
Joan Smith, Journalist, novelist, and human rights activist
Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Rowan Atkinson, Comedian
Prof. A C Grayling, Philosopher and Author
Prof. Timothy Garton Ash, Historian and author of Free Speech
Nick Ross, Television and Radio Presenter
Terry Anderson, Executive Director, Cartoonists Rights Network International
Gary McLelland, Chief Executive, Humanists International
Michael Connarty, Former MP and former Chair of Parliamentary Humanist Group
Dr Evan Harris, Former MP and former Vice-Chair of Parliamentary Humanist Group
Quilliam Foundation
Orna Ross, Director and Author, Alliance of Independent Authors

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