MSPs vote in favour of milestone legislation.
Victims and communities targeted by hate crime will have greater protection after Parliament voted to pass the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.
The legislation will modernise, consolidate and extend existing hate crime law ensuring it is fit for the 21st Century. Through its passing, ‘stirring up’ of hatred offences will now apply to additional characteristics listed in the Bill: age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. These new protections will add to the long-standing stirring up racial hatred offences, which have been in place since 1986 and have been retained in largely the same form within the Bill.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:
“Through the passing of this landmark Bill, Parliament has sent a strong and clear message to victims, perpetrators, communities and to wider society that offences motivated by prejudice will be treated seriously and will not be tolerated – I am delighted Holyrood has backed this powerful legislation that is fitting for the Scotland we live in.
“We must remember why this Bill is so necessary, every day in Scotland around 18 hate crimes are 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, their families and communities, is immense.
“The Bill’s passage has shown Holyrood at its very best – a collaborative, diverse and determined Parliament which we should all be proud of. Robust scrutiny has ensured we have met the right balance between protecting groups targeted by hate crime and respecting people’s rights to free speech.
“I look forward to overseeing the implementation of this legislation which will ensure Scotland’s justice system can bring perpetrators to account and provide sufficient protection for individuals and communities harmed by hate crimes.”
The Hate Crime Bill was introduced to Parliament in April 2020 for consideration following the independent review of Scotland’s hate crime legislation carried out by Lord Bracadale which recommended consolidation of all hate crime law into one Bill.
The Bill updates the list of characteristics protected under hate crime legislation and proposes the addition of age to this list – where there is a statutory aggravation for offences motivated by prejudice. The Bill also provides for new ‘stirring up’ of hatred offences that would apply to all characteristics listed in the Bill: age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. A statutory aggravation, in the hate crime context, is where the offender demonstrated, or was motivated by, malice and ill-will based on a listed characteristic (or characteristics). If the offender is found guilty, the court must take the aggravation into account when determining the sentence. Currently these offences only apply to stirring up racial hatred which has been an offence in Scots law – and the whole of the UK – for decades. The current stirring up of racial hatred offences are in the Public Order Act 1986.
The amendment(s) on freedom of expression answer the calls for more comprehensive freedom of expression provision within the Bill, striking an appropriate balance between providing the necessary clarity and reassurance as to the boundaries of the stirring up hatred offences while not singling out specific communities.
The latest official statistics show Police Scotland recorded 6,448 hate crimes in 2019-20
The Bill also abolishes the offence of blasphemy which has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years.
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