Scottish Hate Crime Bill menaces free speech

Hate is undefined & there is no requirement to prove intent


London, UK – 9 September 2020

The Free to Disagree campaign is pleased to announce that veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has joined the campaign to amend the Scottish Hate Crime Bill to protect free speech, while also ensuring that people are protected against harassment, threats, extreme abuse and malicious damaging falsehoods.

The Peter Tatchell Foundation, a human rights group headed by Mr Tatchell, has also given its support.

Peter is a strong advocate of free speech and the right to protest. In the past, he has twice successfully campaigned against Westminster legislation that would have undermined these fundamental rights.

Commenting on the Scottish Hate Crime Bill, Peter Tatchell said:

“The Bill is very good in some respects. It repeals the ancient law of blasphemy that has been on the statute book for hundreds of years. It also helpfully consolidates various different hate crime laws. But when it comes to the offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ there are dangers.

“Hatred is not defined. What some people may see as hatred, others may see as robust and valid criticism. The new ‘stirring up’ hate offence does not require the person to have intended to cause hate. So there’s no guarantee that someone charged would be able to defend themselves on the grounds that it wasn’t their intention to cause hatred. Moreover, an offence is committed even if it happens in the privacy of one’s own home, not just in public. A person can be also convicted if their words or actions are only “likely” to stir hatred. This means that a crime can be committed even if there is no proof that hatred was actually stirred.

“The police in Scotland will be put in the unenviable position of having to decide what constitutes hate and what crosses the line. People may say things to mock or criticise another person for entirely valid reasons but the person on the receiving end, or other witnesses not directly affected, may decide that what they said is hateful and report it to the police. Dealing with vexatious complaints and hurt feelings should not be part of Police Scotland’s remit.”

Mr Tatchell added:

“The Hate Crime Bill casts the net too wide. Edgy comedians like Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle could be caught. These comics often make controversial, sick jokes about people or ideas. They do not intend to provoke hate but could meet the threshold for a prosecutable offence.

“Plays, artworks and exhibitions could also fall foul of the law. A feminist artist who produces a sculpture that critiques the patriarchy of religion could potentially be prosecuted for ‘stirring up hatred’ against people of faith. Surely that’s not the way we want to go. We need to maintain freedom of artistic expression. The bill in its current form does not provide adequate safeguards and protections.

“There has been a huge backlash against the stirring up of hatred proposals in the bill. We are now hoping and expecting that the Scottish Government will think again; that they’ll take into account the various concerns raised and make appropriate amendments to protect free speech, while also ensuring that people are protected against harassment, threats, extreme abuse and malicious damaging falsehoods,” said Mr Tatchell.

Jamie Gillies, a spokesman for the Free to Disagree campaign, said:

“We’re very glad to have Peter as an ally of the campaign. He’s been a strong defender of free speech for many years and has successfully countered previous attempts to curb this democratic right at Westminster.

“As a supporter of Free to Disagree, Mr Tatchell joins a diverse range of groups and individuals, including the National Secular Society, The Christian Institute, and former SNP MP Jim Sillars in criticising the Hate Crime Bill. The breadth of opposition to the Government’s plans shows just how problematic they are. Ministers must think again.”