Scotland’s Justice Secretary has announced plans to a drop part of the proposed Hate Crime Bill that could have made theatre producers liable for the stirring-up of hatred.
Humza Yousaf told Holyrood’s Justice Committee he also intends to “clarify” in the legislation that insulting or ridiculing a religion will not constitute criminal behaviour on its own.
Additionally, he confirmed people could be prosecuted for stirring up hatred in conversations “around the dinner table” if it is proved to be intentionally threatening or abusive.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill aims to update existing laws for protected characteristics such as disability, race, religion sexual orientation and transgender identity.
The legislation would also add age to the list of protected characteristics and could enable prejudice against a person’s sex – such as misogynistic abuse – to be added at a later date.
During the evidence session, Mr Yousaf said the proposed amendments – removing section four that covers offences during a public performance and clarifying section 11 on religions – were to change the “perception that it might infringe upon people’s freedom of expression”.
He also stressed the stirring-up offence would only apply if a person “intended” to provoke hatred.
Mr Yousaf acknowledged the proposal “potentially causes a hierarchy” of protected characteristics but argued there is a “justifiable case for treating race differently”.
He told MSPs: “When it comes to the racial stirring-up offence, I do think there’s a justification for treating racial stirring-up offence differently to the other offences.
“We know that two-thirds of all hate crime in Scotland relate to race, we know that there’s no denying the prevalence of racial crime and in Scotland, let alone in other parts of the UK.”
Asked about calls for the term “insulting” to be removed to avoid insults from being deemed a hate crime, Mr Yousaf said taking it out of the proposed legislation would make Scotland the only UK nation without it as part of the legal threshold.
He said: “Scotland would have – at least the perception – of the weakest racial stirring-up offences at the same time when racial offences make up two-thirds of all hate crimes.”
An area of the Bill that has triggered the most controversy is the inclusion of stirring-up offences that take place in a person’s home.
Justice Committee convener Adam Tomkins asked whether or not the Bill could be used to “target dinner table conversation”.
Mr Yousaf replied: “The Bill isn’t about specific targeting dinner table conversations.
“Of course, if there is the stirring up of hatred that meets the threshold – so, for the new offences the behaviour is threatening or abusive – and with the intent of stirring up hatred, and that is done around the dinner table with 10 of your mates and that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt, then that would be prosecuted potentially under the offence.”
Mr Yousaf also announced a task force to explore whether to class misogynistic abuse as a hate crime will be lead by lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy.
The Justice Secretary said he is “delighted to have someone of Baroness Kennedy’s stature, and integrity, leading this important piece of work”, which he hopes will happen “at pace”.
He added: “Baroness Kennedy has extensive experience and knowledge in relation to women and the legal system, and will provide a strong independent perspective for our important work in this area.”
Baroness Kennedy said: “I am delighted to be announced as chair of this working group.
“It is important that we address misogyny and the hate crime specifically directed at women.
“Scotland led the way on creating serious responses to domestic violence with its zero-tolerance position and this could be another area for pioneering reform.”
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