Letters: An alarming threat to our freedom to speak freely – HeraldScotland

JOHN Mason MSP (letters, July 27) claims that the Hate Crime Bill is mainly a consolidation and really only tweaks existing law. and that those of us opposed to it are too worried about future vague potential threats to expressions of free speech.

The consolidation is acknowledged, but those parts of the Bill that extend the criminal law go far beyond a mere tweak.

Take as just one example Clause 3 (1) (b) (ii): a person, with no motive to stir up hatred, can find that the words used are deemed likely that hatred will be stirred up and so commits a criminal offence.

Who will deem it likely that words written or spoken, or a cartoon, or a play, where no motive exists, can be turned into an offence? The police, acting alone or on the instruction of the Crown Office. Organs of the state and not the originator of the words, who had no intention of stirring up hatred. What has happened to the need for mens rea?

John Mason might be happy with that. I am not; because the only protection from that kind of law is self-censorship. Making people afraid to speak what is in their minds is the pernicious way chosen by authoritarian regimes to clamp down on freedom. That a Scottish parliament should be asked to put a foot down that road, and contemplate passing a Bill in which protection by self-censorship is implicit, requires the most robust opposition from Left, Right and Centre.

Jim Sillars,

Edinburgh.

IN John Masons defence of the proposed Hate Crime Bill he seeks to reassure us that this is no big deal: all of the powers enacted in the Bill are unlikely to be used.

If this is so, would it not make sense not to enact them in the first place? Then we could be certain that those powers could not be misused.

Why create a law with the intention of not enforcing all of it?

Insofar as sectarianism may be a problem in Scotland, that is something which manifests itself in the minds and actions of a few misguided people. Its a moral or spiritual deficit in individuals which is not amenable to cure through the blunt instrument of Criminal Law.

If existing Hate Crime legislation is faulty we could just repeal it and leave it at that. It doesnt need a replacement. Other laws cover the real crimes that matter.

I prefer the analysis of your correspondent, T. Marshall: we have stumbled into a minefield of attacks on free speech; and our police could do without the burden of having to enforce ill-conceived legislation.

Did we learn nothing from the Offensive Behaviour at Football Stadia debacle?

John McArthur,

Rutherglen.

IN a submission to the consultation on the Hate Crime Bill I suggested that in addition to the failings of the proposed Bill on lack of evidence and substance, its drafting was, in my opinion, poor.

Just to confirm this we had the Justice Secretary confirm this week that we can still say offensive things. Just dont do it in a threatening or abusive way

So if the Government wishes to continue, will Mr Yousaf tell us who is to define and decide what is threatening or abusive in a spur of the moment?

Added to the Bills statement that a single source (i.e., uncorroborated?) is sufficient to prove that an offence is aggravated by prejudice, who in these moments is to decide what is threatening or abusive? Are we to lumber an already overloaded police force with interpretation of that type of badly-drafted law?

Mr Yousaf should drop the Bill now. It is a disaster waiting to happen. He should pay heed to the initial consultation where clause 44 of this Bill indicated the majority of individuals consulted were not supportive of hate crime laws.

I suggest the Justice Committee, in its review, follows Voltaires maxim and it be tested against the paradigms of free speech and thought. As it stands it doesnt meet either of these criteria and should be withdrawn.

Chic Brodie,

Ayr

THE Bill no doubt had its roots in good intentions, but surely the SNP government must realise the steep road it will have to climb before the Bill can become law.

To quote a Labour MP in your article yesterday (Police warn hate crime Bill will paralyse freedom of speech), With police officers, lawyers and religious groups expressing concerns about the stirring up hatred proposals, it is clear Mr Yousaf has got this badly wrong.

The Scottish Police Federation submission is particularly worrying, given that it represents 17,000 frontline officers - the very men and women who would be charged with upholding the new law.

It is difficult to see how Mr Yousaf can satisfactorily deal with all of these well-founded, serious complaints and steer the Bill through Holyrood. Its advance publicity has largely been negative and I would say that the general public is now wary, to say the least, about it.

It might be better for him to go back to the drawing-board and start again. Which is a pity, as the broad strokes of the principles behind the Bill suggest that there is a problem in Scottish society that needs to be addressed.

M. Lipton, Glasgow

MY experience is as a journalist and not a lawyer, so there may be legal points in this Bill which I overlook. Nevertheless, here are some questions for our parliamentarians.

Since 2012, people in Scotland have been protected by specific laws on grounds of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity. Apart from adding age to the list, what need is there for this Bill?

Section 1 discusses aggravation of offences by prejudice. The Latin, pre-judice, means judging ahead. While growing up, most people have to form some sort of pre-judgements. In normal conversation, that is one way of getting to know and understand people.

This Bill declares society will not tolerate crimes motivated by prejudice and aims to create new offences relating to stirring up hatred in relation to all listed characteristics, disability, age, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics.

Surely stirring up hatred is already a well-kent sin? It is always wrong. Prejudice is only occasionally a sin. If all prejudices are to be designated crimes, must we all be put in prison?

Section 2 deals with Stirring up Offences. It lists threatening, abusive and insulting behaviour in stirring up racial hatred. But unlike the first two, insulting behaviour can be a purely subjective judgement. Lord Bracadale was right to ask for it to be removed. He also called for a clear distinction to be made between legitimate debate and rabble-rousing.

Almost from its very beginning, Scotland has been a Christian country. Christianity, by founding and supporting the universities, has encouraged debate and freedom of speech. Some modern governments, whether communist, fascist or socialist, have clamped down on this (witness todays China). It will be a sad day when the Scottish Government starts enforcing what it believes to be politically correct and gagging the public.

But again and again in this Section, it is being emphasised that there do not have to be any specific victims of hate crime, only that crime may have been aggravated by prejudice. Does this smack of George Orwells Thought Control?

Paragraph 23 maintains that there does not even have to be legal corroboration to prove that an offence was aggravated by prejudice. This gainsays the just and ancient Scottish legal tradition of the necessity for corroboration.

Section 4 considers culpability where an offence is committed during the public performance of a play. Not even works of imagination are to go uncensored. Yet

The plays the thing/

With which to touch the conscience of the King.

In Section 5, paragraph 47 creates an offence of racially inflammatory material. It provides that it is an offence for a person to have in the possession threatening, abusive or insulting material to another person. Does this include libraries?

In paragraph 56, we are told, A constable or member of the police staff may enter premises (by force of necessary), search them and seize and detain any material found there. Will they have to read all our books?

In paragraph 65, what is the Public Policy which is affirmed? Do the public know what the Public Policy is? People should feel free to examine religious beliefs robustly, and indeed have courageous discussion about sexual orientation and same-sex marriage.

Last but not least, we are told that the existing laws protecting religion and race and the listed characteristics are repealed as a consequence of this new legislation.

Does this put Parliament under pressure to hastily pass this Bill in order to protect the very basic human rights pertaining to race and religion which they already had?

Lesley J. Findlay,

Fort Augustus.

MIGHT I just quote a few lines from the Scottish Government website, with reference to this seemingly controversial Bill?

It says: We are clear that any form of hate crime or prejudice is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

We are committed to building strong, resilient and supportive communities. Hate crime and prejudice threaten community cohesion, and have a corrosive impact on Scotlands minority communities as well as broader society.

It describes hate crime as something that can be verbal or physical and has hugely damaging effects on the victims, their families and communities, and we all must play our part to challenge it.

A few ago the government launched a campaign to raise awareness of hate crime, and which, as I recall, victims were encouraged to report such behaviour.

It was based on the fact that more than 5,000 cases of hate crime had been reported that year.

This suggests there is a very real problem to hand in modern-day Scotland. It is unfortunate that this is the case, in the 21st century, but many old habits die hard.

Given the prevalence of such disturbing behaviour, surely it is incumbent on the government to do something about it? All it is doing is seeking to enact into law a provision that will make hate crimes a thing of the past.

As Mr Mason said, the Bill is only starting on its progress through parliament. Its flaws and there are some will be ironed out over the weeks and months ahead.

But let us not lose sight of the fact that minority communities are still suffering every day. We cannot just sit on our hands and pretend that everything is fine.

T. A. Stewart, Glasgow

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Letters: An alarming threat to our freedom to speak freely - HeraldScotland

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