Threat to free speech

Scottish Daily Mail - - News -

No one likes ob­nox­ious or abu­sive lan­guage. Mind­less prej­u­dice coarsens our pub­lic spa­ces and can make some feel un­wel­come in their own coun­try. That is why the SNP’s pro­posed Hate Crime Bill may ap­pear de­sir­able at first glance.

Look closer, how­ever, and what con­fronts you is a broad and sweep­ing piece of leg­is­la­tion that risks crim­i­nal­is­ing speech cur­rently con­sid­ered merely of­fen­sive or even an ex­pres­sion of po­lit­i­cal be­lief.

Humza Yousaf, who in­tro­duced the Bill, ini­tially as­sured MSPs that only ‘threat­en­ing and abu­sive’ con­duct would be cov­ered. Now he ad­mits abu­sive­ness alone would be enough for charges to be brought.

That opens up vast swathes of speech and be­hav­iour, cur­rently al­lowed un­der law, to po­ten­tial pros­e­cu­tion on the ba­sis of vague and ill-de­fined prin­ci­ples. The threat to free­dom of speech is se­vere and the op­por­tu­nity for un­in­tended con­se­quences ripe.

The SNP is stray­ing into a po­ten­tial mine­field – and risks en­dan­ger­ing the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of free speech.

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