Amendments aimed at protecting freedom of expression have been added to Scotland’s controversial hate crime Bill.
MSPs considered changes to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill on Wednesday.
Opponents of the Bill – which would create a new offence of stirring up hatred as well as consolidating a number of existing pieces of legislation – said it would have a chilling effect on free speech.
Recognising the concerns around expression, both justice secretary Humza Yousaf and Justice Committee convener Adam Tomkins proposed amendments to the legislation which were both unanimously backed by MSPs.
Tomkins’ amendment sought to enshrine in the Bill the right to “offend, shock or disturb” in line with article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, while Yousaf’s meant that simply criticism or discussion of the protected characteristics could not solely be taken as threatening or abusive.
Speaking in Holyrood on Wednesday, Tomkins said of the amendments: “If you want to argue, even if you want to campaign robustly for women’s sex based rights, if you want to argue that sex is immutable, if you want to argue that sex is binary, you are not committing a hate crime, even if someone else is offended or shocked or disturbed by what you have to say, even if someone else is very upset and accuses you of transphobia.
“You are not committing a hate crime unless you cross that threshold of saying something that is not only offensive, but saying something that a reasonable person would hold to be threatening or abusive in a manner that intends to stir up hatred.”
Yousaf’s amendment also goes further on the grounds of religion – adding that “antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult” of religions or those who hold religious beliefs also does not by itself constitute threatening or abusive behaviour.
Further amendments relating to privacy, tabled by Tomkins and his Conservative colleague Liam Kerr, were voted down by MSPs.
The amendments would have offered protections for private conversations within people’s homes.
The final debate on the Bill, which was due on Wednesday, was eventually scrapped due to the length of time taken to vote on amendments, with the presiding officer expecting the final decision on changes to the Bill to be taken at around 9pm.
The debate on the final Bill was slated to take an hour before MSPs were able to have their final vote.
While the presiding officer, Ken Macintosh, said the final decision on the Bill would be put to MSPs on Thursday, this will have to be confirmed by the parliamentary bureau.