MSPs approve Scotland’s controversial hate crime law

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MSPs have passed Scotland’s controversial new hate crime law.

The legislation consolidates existing law and extends protection for vulnerable groups with a new offence of “stirring up hatred”.

It was passed by 82 votes to 32 a day later than expected, after MSPs ran out of time on Wednesday while debating a raft of amendments.

Opponents of the bill said they still have concerns about a possible chilling of free speech.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was first introduced last April in response to an independent review of Scotland’s hate crime laws by Lord Bracadale, but has sparked fierce debate.

Under the bill, offences are considered “aggravated” – which could influence sentencing – if they involve prejudice on the basis of age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or variations in sex characteristics (sometimes described as “intersex” physical or biological characteristics).

It also creates new offences of “stirring up hatred” – which previously applied only to race – and abolishes the offence of blasphemy which has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years.

An earlier draft of the bill was criticised by the Law Society of Scotland for having a perceived low threshold for prosecution.

A number of groups including religious and cultural groups, writers, journalists, campaigners and police raised concerns about its impact on free expression.

On Wednesday, two amendments designed to strengthen the protection of free speech were passed unanimously by MSPs.

The changes meant “stirring up hatred” would only be considered an offence if it was intentional.

And during the final debate on Thursday, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf argued that those provisions were strong enough to prevent criminalisation.

However, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said there was “inherent ambiguity” in the language of the legislation.

He claimed it did not strike the right “balance” between free expression and protection from hate.

It was described in a heated five-hour debate as “the most controversial” piece of legislation ever considered by the Scottish Parliament.

Source: BBC News