Members of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee have launched a call for views on the Scottish Government’s plans to update hate crime laws.
MSPs want to know whether the public, including groups who may be directly impacted by the new law, support the proposals, or whether some parts of the Bill could be changed.
In the Bill, age and variations in sex characteristics are added to the characteristics which already receive extra protections from hate crimes (which are disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity). The Bill also leaves open the possibility to add sex as a characteristic at a later date.
In addition to adding age and variations in sex characteristic and bringing together the different bits of legislation which all apply in this area at present into a single law, the proposals:
• create a new offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ against any of these groups; and,
• abolish the offence of blasphemy
As the call for views issued, Justice Committee Convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said:
“Offences motivated by hatred or prejudice have been more harshly treated by courts for a number of years, and Committee Members broadly support extra protections for vulnerable groups."
“Certainly aspects of this Bill, such as bringing together the various different laws into one place seem eminently sensible, and a way to remove anomalies.
“However, this Bill needs careful consideration. While there are clear cut examples of hate crimes, there are also trickier cases. Making sure the law strikes the right balance, protecting those who fall victim to crime because of the prejudice of others while also protecting the freedom of thought and expression of all citizens, is the task that lies before us.
“These issues are not easy or straightforward and will outlast the current Covid-19 pandemic. It is crucial that they get the close attention and parliamentary scrutiny they deserve.
“The committee wants to hear from Scottish society about whether they agree this Bill the best way to achieve those aims. Does it give the right protections, are any groups overlooked, or could there be any unintended consequences? These are the issues we want to look at in depth as we examine this new legislation.”
The call for views is open until 24 July. Following this point, the Committee will consider how best it can take forward Stage One scrutiny, including considering the Covid-19 situation at that time.
The call for views and Committee webpages can be found here.
The Bill follows on from a review of hate crime legislation by Lord Bracadale, which reported in May 2018.
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