SNP back down: Furious backlash over controversial hate crime bill triggers U-turn

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Criticism to the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill has centred around plans for a new offence of “stirring up hatred”, which opponents fear will stifle freedom of expression. BBC Scotland, Catholic bishops, the Humanist Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation are amongst those to have raised concerns, along with Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson and writer Val McDermid.

Because of this, Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has now amended the legislation and changed the controversial “stirring up” offences section which has been condemned by opponents.

It now means “stirring up offences” would be limited to “intent” relating to age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics and therefore prosecutions could only be brought in this respect.

But initially, other organisations spoke out in favour of the proposals, with the Equality Network and Victim Support Scotland both welcoming the Bill.

It comes as Holyrood’s Justice Committee is due to begin scrutiny of the Bill at Stage One, in which the general principles of the legislation are considered.

The committee received some 2,000 submissions in response to its call for views of the legislation, with the high level of responses leading some opponents to brand the Bill the most contentious in Holyrood’s history.

Liam Kerr MSP, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman said this afternoon that he warned the SNP weeks ago about the opposition to the Bill.

He said: “We warned the SNP some weeks ago about the avalanche of opposition to this Bill and the direct threat that Part 2 poses to freedom of expression.

“Unfortunately, Humza Yousaf has not only failed to fix the problems – he has flat out refused to remove the stirring-up offences.

“The minor amendments do not go anywhere near far enough.

“The most controversial piece of legislation in Scottish Parliament history won’t be fixed by tinkering around the margins.

“Our fundamental right to freedom of speech remains under threat.”

Jamie Gillies, spokesperson for the Free to Disagree Campaign, said: “This official confirmation that the ‘stirring up’ offences are to be amended is welcome.

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“We are grateful for Mr Yousaf for being willing to listen to concerns from a range of stakeholders and limit the offences to ‘intent’.

“There are several issues remaining with the draft legislation and we look forward to working with others in the coming weeks to see these addressed.”

Adam Tomkins MSP, Convenor of the Holyrood Justice Committee, said: “Of course the stirring up offences are the single biggest issue in terms of volume of responses and in terms of heat generated, but when the committee looks at the Bill it will look at the whole of the Bill.”

Debates on the Bill are expected to begin next week.

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