The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed Scottish Government plans to change key aspects of the hate crime bill.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf announced today, Wednesday, 23 September, that there will be amendments to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, in particular around the  new ‘stirring up’ offence.

Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s willingness to listen and respond to the genuine concerns that we, and many other groups and individuals, have raised about the Bill.

“Much of our concern has been about vagueness in the Bill and the resulting lack of certainty for the public. We are pleased this has been recognised and that the Cabinet Secretary is actively seeking common ground and compromise to ensure Scots Law is fit for the 21st century and there are sufficient protections for those most vulnerable to prejudice in our society.

“We welcome proposals to strengthen the Bill in relation to the new ‘stirring up’ offence to include the requirement of intention. This will alleviate concerns that offences could be committed by people expressing controversial views but where they have no intention of stirring up hatred against any group. We are also pleased to see the Cabinet Secretary will consider amendments regarding clarification of reasonable defence and freedom of expression. We would support his aim of reviewing the use of archaic language which should not be a part of modern consolidated legislation

“We understand the current approach to race will be maintained but think that there will be need to assess the impact of maintaining ‘likely’ as the standard to be applied to race-related hate crimes. It may be more appropriate to require that there is a ‘significant risk’, a term which is already used in relation to vulnerable witnesses in legislation

“We also think the Bill should avoid creating a hierarchy of victims and that this should be considered further in the overall context of the policy objectives of the Bill.

“We have consistently backed proposals to modernise and consolidate laws covering hate crime to bring clarity and promote a better understanding and application of Scots criminal law. We will scrutinise amendments to the Bill and continue to engage with the Scottish Government and other interested groups and individuals as the Bill progresses through the Scottish Parliament.”

The Law Society also welcomed the Minster’s commitment to establishing a working group on misogyny, particularly in light of the newly published recommendation by the Law Commission of England and Wales that sex or gender should be a protected characteristic in hate crime law.

Our submission to the Scottish Government call for evidence on the Bill is available on our website.

Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill

The Bill will abolish the common law offence of blasphemy.  The offence has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years and, according to the Scottish Government, no longer reflects the kind of society in which we live.