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28 Oct, 2020 15:18

Scotland’s justice minister wants to punish citizens over ‘insulting’ conversations AT HOME

Scotland’s justice minister wants to punish citizens over ‘insulting’ conversations AT HOME

Scotland’s proposed hate crime bill will penalize anyone whipping up hatred against “protected groups.” That includes people making “insulting” remarks within their own home, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has revealed.

Quizzed on the bill by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on Tuesday, Yousaf assured critics that the proposed legislation would protect the “right to be offensive.” However, anyone “stirring up hatred” against others on the basis of religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity or “variations in sexual characteristics” will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, he said. 

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That includes off-color dinner table conversations with friends and family. Asked whether people would be allowed to speak freely within their own homes, Yousaf said he disagreed “in terms of principle and policy” with the idea of keeping the law out of the living room.

“Let's just give an example, which is intentionally stirring up hatred against Muslims,” he said. “Are we saying that that is justified because it is in the home?”

The bill’s definition of hate speech is a broad one, and its text would criminalize anyone acting in “a threatening, abusive or insulting manner” towards one of its protected groups. 

Yousaf did not speculate on how Scottish authorities would police conversations inside the home. However, the bill as it currently stands would not require an actual victim, just proof that the perpetrator was motivated by “malice” or “ill-will.” According to the bill, a report by a “single source” could be enough to secure a conviction. 

The justice secretary was roasted online for his Big Brother aspirations. Conservative MSP Alison Harris accused Yousaf of “trying to force through dangerous attacks on our freedoms,” while Harris’ fellow Conservative Gordon Lindhurst called Yousaf’s suggestion “deeply concerning.”

As commenters slammed Yousaf online on Wednesday, he doubled down and replied to his critics. “If you invite 10 mates round & it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that you intentionally stirred up hatred against Jews, why should this not be prosecuted,” the minister argued.

Yousaf’s bill, which amends the 1986 Public Order Act, was introduced in April. Though championed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party (SNP), it has been fiercely criticized by academics, artists, the Scottish Catholic Church, police associations, and free speech activists for apparently squashing freedom of expression. The London-based Free Speech Union said this summer that it would “enable groups claiming to speak for people in these protected categories to lobby the authorities to prosecute anyone who challenges their … identitarian dogma.”

The 1986 Public Order Act covers a wide range of riot, harassment, drunkenness and harassment offences. Its prohibition of “abusive or insulting” speech, however, includes a “dwelling defence,” which protects this speech inside private homes. Yousaf’s bill would do away with this caveat.

The bill is still some time away from becoming law. The Justice Committee currently aims to complete a review of its text by mid-December, though Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins told the BBC last month that the date could slip. “Given the importance of this legislation, and the strength of feeling it is generating, it is vital that sufficient time is allowed for scrutiny,” he said.

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