Hate Crime law reform
Amendments to Bill proposed to safeguard freedom of speech.
The Scottish Government is proposing to make changes to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill to balance protection of vulnerable groups affected by hate crime with people’s rights to freedom of expression.
Ministers are proposing to amend the legislation which, if agreed by Parliament, would mean a conviction for new offences of ‘stirring up’ hatred would be possible only where it was shown that someone intended to stir up hatred through their actions or behaviour.
The alternative and lower threshold for an offence to be triggered which is currently in the draft legislation – namely if someone’s behaviour was ‘likely to’ stir up hatred – is to be removed.
There will be no change to the threshold for the existing stirring up of hatred offences for racial hatred. These offences have been in Scots Law since 1986 and will remain in place.
Announcing his intention to bring amendments in Parliament, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:
“Confronting hate crime is central to building the safer, stronger and inclusive Scotland that we all want to see – free from hatred, prejudice, discrimination and bigotry. Our plans to legislate will ensure hate crime law is fit for the 21st Century, giving sufficient protection to those who need it.
“I have listened to and reflected carefully on concerns raised over the Bill, particularly over the operation of the new stirring up hatred offences and concerns that these offences do not require that the accused intended to stir up hatred.
“I recognise that there is a real risk that if the offences don’t require intent to stir up hatred, people may self-censor their activities through a perception that the operation of this aspect of the offences may be used to prosecute what are entirely legitimate acts of expression.
“The Scottish Government will therefore lodge stage 2 amendments to the Bill to make the new stirring up hatred offences ‘intent only’. I hope this fundamental change will provide necessary reassurance that the new stirring up hatred offences strike an appropriate balance between respecting freedom of expression while protecting those impacted by people who set out to stir up hatred in others.
“I am keen to find common ground and will look at other areas of the Bill for possible reform, in doing so we will of course engage with stakeholders and opposition as the Bill goes through the usual Parliamentary scrutiny. I am confident that, going forward, the debate around the Bill will help build consensus on how we effectively tackle hate crime and how we can keep working together to ensure Scotland is an inclusive and forward thinking society.”
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill provides for new ‘stirring up’ of hatred offences that would apply to characteristics listed in the Bill: age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. Existing stirring up hatred offences in relation to race have existed since 1986.
Last year there were more than 5,600 hate crimes reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Racial crime remains the most commonly reported hate crime. In total 3,038 charges relating to race crime were reported in 2019-20, an increase of 4 percent compared to 2018-19. Sexual orientation aggravated crime is the second most commonly reported type of hate crime. The number of charges reported increased by 24% in 2019-20 to 1,486.