Members of the Scottish Parliament have voted by 82 to 32 to pass the Scottish Government’s controversial hate crime bill.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill consolidates a number of laws into one piece of legislation that aims to provide increased protection for vulnerable groups, but the bill also creates a new offence of “stirring up hatred” on the groups of religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, and transgender identity.
The offence already exists for race under the 1986 Public Order Act. This bill was first introduced last April in response to an independent review of Scotland’s hate crime laws by Lord Bracadale. An earlier draft of this bill was further criticised by the Law Society of Scotland for having a perceived low threshold for prosecution.
There were concerns by female MSPs about the exclusion and lack of protection for women in the bill. Labour MSP Johann Lamont proposed an amendment to add sex as a protected characteristic under the bill, but this was narrowly rejected 68 votes to 53. However, the government is working to look at whether a separate criminal offence of misogyny could be introduced.
The Bill was also passed amid anger about its exclusion of assurances that the legislation will not criminalise those whose views are transphobic.
Following criticism from religious groups, writers, journalists, campaigners and police surrounding the bill’s impact on free expression and speech, the government modified the wording of the bill. These changes meant that “stirring up hatred” would only be considered an offence if it was intentional.
Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, led the final debate in the Scottish parliament and assured MSPs that the legislation provided balanced protection for victims of hate crime with safeguarding freedom of expression and also commented on how the rigorous consideration of the bill had “shown the very best of parliament”.
Yousaf said: “I am delighted Holyrood has backed this powerful legislation that is fitting for the Scotland we live in.”
“Parliament has sent a strong and clear message to victims, preparators, communities and to wider society that offences motivated by prejudice will be treated seriously and will not be tolerated.” After five hours of debate, the parliament suspended the meetings at around 9pm on 10th March. The final vote on the bill was unanimous, with only four abstentions, and accepted by the MSPs on Thursday 11th March.