Scottish Daily Mail

NEW SNP LAW’S ‘CHILLING’ THREAT TO FREE SPEECH

Hate Crimes Bill condemned as ‘totalitari­an’ and ‘dangerous’ ++ UN Human Rights expert warns of state censorship ++ Leading QC fears it will stifle debate

- By Rachel Watson Deputy Scottish Political Editor

SCOTLAND will resemble a ‘totalitari­an state’ where no one is exempt from censorship under the SNP’s new hate crime laws, a UN legal expert has warned.

Analyst Lois McLatchie, who works with the UN human rights Council, said the proposals would have a ‘chilling effect on society’.

In a scathing review of the hate Crime Bill now going through the Scottish parliament, she said that the erosion of freedom of speech would create a culture of silence more commonly seen in countries run by despots.

And she cited the row over author JK rowling’s views on transgende­r issues as an example of how ‘cancel culture’ would become enshrined in law as the state dictates what we say and which books we read.

Senior lawyer Thomas ross, QC, also warned the wording of the Bill is so vague that ordinary people will find themselves dragged through the courts for unintentio­nally offending someone.

Justice Secretary humza Yousaf has described the Bill as an ‘important milestone’ which shows the Government is determined to make Scotland a ‘zero tolerance’ society for such

offences. The Bill widens the definition of a hate crime to include age, disability, religion, sexual orientatio­n and transgende­r issues as well as race. People found guilty of ‘stirring up hatred’ would face up to seven years in jail.

It could also see a ban on ‘inflammato­ry materials’ such as books, leaflets and other printed documents.

But, as a consultati­on on the Bill ends today, there is growing opposition, with campaigner­s calling for the proposals to be scrapped.

Miss McLatchie, a legal analyst for ADF Internatio­nal in Geneva, said: ‘If we look at the kind of cancel culture we are dealing with on Twitter and university campuses... it means that people are afraid to discuss their views, their questions, their ideas and what we are doing is we are putting that into law.

‘This will create a society that is fear

‘Fearful and unable to talk about things’

ful and unable to talk about things that people are concerned about.’

Key concerns surround the second part of the Bill, which would criminalis­e the ‘stirring up of hatred’ against protected groups.

Behaving in a ‘threatenin­g, abusive or insulting manner’ or communicat­ing ‘threatenin­g, abusive or insulting material’ that either intends to stir up hatred against a protected group or is ‘likely’ to cause hatred would be an offence.

Miss McLatchie said: ‘One of the major things about the Bill is that it has very vague terminolog­y, it talks about “stirring up hate” but we don’t know exactly what that could look like.

‘You could be guilty of a crime and not even know you are committing it, and the problem is that creates a society of fear. In a democracy we should never be stifling the democratic debate.’

Turning to the issue of freedom of speech, she said: ‘If the Bill was to pass it would be the state that gets to decide what is said and what can be said.

‘We are allowing that policing of ideas into law, the state can decide what is acceptable speech and what is not acceptable speech.

‘When we look where that has happened in history it is definitely not a direction Scotland wants to go in. Scotland wants to keep a free and open democracy.’

Miss McLatchie added: ‘Another part of this Bill is the censorship of what they have called “inflammato­ry material”, which is the written communicat­ion of different ideas.

‘If we think about the ways those things are potentiall­y under penalty we can compare it to countries that are kind of totalitari­an, that don’t enjoy democracy like we do.’

The Hate Crime Bill is at stage one of the legislativ­e process after being introduced at Holyrood on April 23. The proposed changes follow a review by Lord Bracadale in 2018, which called for a widening of hate crime legislatio­n.

An initial consultati­on on the review highlighte­d concerns around freedom of speech, especially a lack of clarity over the phrase ‘stirring up hatred’.

The Faculty of Advocates stated at the time: ‘There is a danger with such legislatio­n that genuine and legitimate criticism could be construed as “stirring up hatred”. ’

Religious groups fear it could close down debate on moral issues such as abortion laws. National Secular Society spokesman Chris Sloggett, said ministers had ‘shown reckless disregard for free speech by proceeding with these plans despite warnings of their potential impact’.

The SNP remains committed to progressin­g the legislatio­n through Holyrood. Charities including Age Scotland have praised the Bill, which would make abuse targeted at the elderly a specific crime.

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr warned of a ‘very real possibilit­y that people will start to self-censor and censor others simply out of fear of breaking the law’.

He added: ‘If that happens, even without prosecutio­ns, the SNP Government will have restricted our essential freedom of speech.’

John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, said the Bill represents ‘a considerab­le threat to freedom of the Press’.

The Scottish Government said the Bill has the support of organisati­ons including the Equality Network and Victim Support Scotland, and ‘strikes the right balance between respecting freedom of speech and tackling hate speech’.

Comment – Page 18

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