Hate Crime Act

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 Hate Crime Act does 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 raised 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’.
Our amendments which would have protected free speech were voted down by the SNP and all other parties. As a result, we voted against the Bill as it threatened freedom of speech and failed to protect the right to privacy.
The Scottish Conservatives would repeal the SNP’s Hate Crime Act with a Protection of Free Speech Bill, to protect our fundamental right to freedom of expression. The SNP ignored its flaws from the start despite widespread opposition from academics, lawyers, journalists, entertainers and faith groups.
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.