Scotland’s controversial hate crime Bill will be put to a final vote on Wednesday.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill has, from its introduction, caused heated debate among politicians and interest groups.
The Bill would consolidate a number of laws into one piece of legislation, but would also add the offence of stirring up hatred.
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf has urged MSPs to back the Bill adding that the level of parliamentary scrutiny has “shown Holyrood at its best – [a] collaborative, diverse and determined parliament which we should all be proud of”.
He added: “We must remember why this Bill is so necessary, every day in Scotland there are an estimated 18 hate crimes committed.
“The effects of these crimes are felt deeply by those targeted and this prejudice has a pernicious effect on the health of a society and its communities.
“Not only that, the toll hate crime takes on its victims and their families, is immense.
“Elected representatives have the opportunity to represent those people and groups targeted by hate crime by coming together and backing this legislative milestone which will ensure Scotland’s justice system can bring perpetrators to account and provide protection for individuals and communities harmed by hate crimes.”
A group of 20 victims’ organisations have urged all MSPs to support the Bill in a submission to the justice secretary this week.
BEMIS Scotland said the law had the opportunity to be “an internationally leading piece of anti-discrimination legislation”.
When introduced, the Bill was criticised for its use of vague language, and some said it would have a detrimental effect on free speech.
Following months of concern, the justice secretary repeatedly amended the legislation, including changes that would only make stirring up hatred an offence if there was intent to do so.
Yousaf has also proposed an amendment to protect freedom of expression after concerns were raised that the Bill would impact free speech.
Despite calls from opposition MSPs, led by Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr, Yousaf refused to institute a “dwelling defence”, meaning the stirring up offence could not be committed within someone’s home.
The justice secretary said the defence could be used by organised hate groups to meet in someone’s home where they could escape prosecution.
He also agreed with Michael Clancy, the director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland, who told the Justice Committee in November: “There is no sanctuary, in that sense, for most aspects of the criminal law and I do not think that there should be a sanctuary when it comes to hate speech.”