SNP must see sense and drop sinister Bill
THE right to free speech is an integral part of any modern democratic state.
Any attempt to place curbs upon it must be viewed with the deepest of suspicion.
The SNP’s Hate Crime Bill is a bid to impose further restrictions on what can and cannot be said in a public forum.
But the scope of the proposed law is so great, and its wording so vague that, if passed, it could lead to unpalatable consequences.
Critics are right to point out that actors could be arrested or books banned.
And the courts will have to decide the borderline between causing offence and ‘stirring up’ hatred. Now the Law Society of Scotland, representing lawyers, warns freedom of expression could be undermined.
Criticising the ‘vagueness’ in the Bill and its policy intentions, the society says this ‘could result in a lack of certainty for the public in understanding what constituted criminal behaviour’.
This would also impact on solicitors, whether prosecuting or defending those accused of offences created in the Bill.
Like the proposed ban on sectarian singing at football matches – later scrapped – this has all the hallmarks of bad law.
When those tasked with enforcing it and prosecuting offenders in court warn that it’s unworkable, ministers should pay attention.
Sadly, its past record suggests the SNP is all too often deaf to constructive criticism. The Named Person fiasco showed ministers were prepared to forge ahead with legislation that had been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, before a belated U-turn.
We can only hope that since then they have learned their lesson, and will heed growing calls for a rethink.
This is an ill-conceived and sinister Bill – and it must be dropped now before it causes irrevocable damage to one of the key pillars of our democracy.