Thank you for contacting me about the SNP Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.
Intolerance, bigotry, racism or prejudice of any kind should not be accepted anywhere in a civilised society.
We must recognise the profound harm which hate crimes cause to the victim and the community they belong to, but there is a vital balance to be struck between freedom of expression and cracking down on prejudice. The SNP Government’s proposed legislation did not strike this balance.
In general, I support the findings of Lord Bracadale’s review in 2018 that the best way to punish hate crime is by aggravators which can be added to existing crimes, rather than standalone hate crime offences.
The SNP’s offences of ‘stirring up hatred’ threaten freedom of speech, and fail the simple tests of being clear, certain and capable of enforcement. There was an unprecedented response to the Justice Committee’s call for views on the Hate Crime Bill and most of those published so far raise grave concerns about this area. The Scottish Police Federation stated the bill could ‘devastate’ the relationship between the police and the public. The Scottish Newspaper Society said it ‘poses a serious threat to freedom of expression’ and the Faculty of Advocates warned that the Bill’s flaws mean there is ‘no alternative but to reconsider the draft bill’.
The Scottish Conservatives called a debate to focus Parliament’s collective mind on how to prevent the most problematic parts becoming law – but it was voted down by the SNP and all other parties. As our concerns were ignored, we voted against this Bill at Stage 1.
Our Stage 3 Amendments which would have protected free speech were voted down by the SNP and all other parties. As a result, we could not support the Bill at the final vote as it threatened freedom of speech and failed to protect the right to privacy.
I am disappointed that the SNP Government did not include an aggravator for criminals who target vulnerable persons like the elderly. Tougher sentences for these sorts of offenders is something the Scottish Conservatives have campaigned on for a number of years and was recommended by Lord Bracadale and Police Scotland. We also regard this Bill as a missed opportunity to make meaningful steps towards restorative justice – where the victim of crime is put at the heart of the justice process.
Thank you again for taking the time to write.