SNP must see sense and drop sin­is­ter Bill

Scottish Daily Mail - - News -

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.

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