Proposals to modernise hate crime legislation will help to support and encourage an inclusive, equal and diverse Scottish society, although further clarity is needed.
The Law Society of Scotland has supported the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill’s aim to consolidate hate crime into a modern code of offences, saying that the Bill has taken a giant step forwards in setting out a ‘one-stop-shop’ for hate crime offences.
The professional body for Scottish solicitors has also called for a widespread education campaign which should start within school and be included in the Getting It Right For Every Child curriculum to promote public awareness and understanding about hate crime offences.
Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “Hate crime towards any individuals or groups should never be tolerated and we support the Bill in making that start on seeking to support and encourage an inclusive, equal and diverse Scottish society.
“There has been a great deal of robust scrutiny and intense debate surrounding the Bill. We have welcomed amendments which improve clarity and, from the outset, have supported its aim of defining hate crime in a single piece of legislation. We also think it is important for the Bill once passed to be supported by a widespread education campaign to promote public awareness and understanding about offences to ensure that everyone knows what comprises hate crime, the groups it protects and the effect of that protection.”
The Law Society has expressed concerns about some of the provisions, saying it would have preferred inclusion of a defence that did not differentiate among the characteristics set out in the Bill, which creates a hierarchy or perception of a hierarchy of victims and/or characteristics. It also fears that that the freedom of expression provisions will not be easily understood, with the lack of clarity potentially send confusing messages about what is or is not acceptable under criminal law.
Amanda Millar added: “Hate crime is unfortunately all too prevalent and it is absolutely right that the criminal justice system can address it while ensuring dignity, respect and compassion for those affected in society. In creating new criminal offences restricting existing personal freedom, the law must be fair and balanced so that the Bill avoids clarification through case law in the future. However, as these amendments stand, we think it is inevitable that the need for case law will arise due to a lack of clarity.”
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill Stage 3 debate is taking place on Wednesday, 10 March. Our Stage 3 briefing paper on the Bill is available on our website.