The Scottish Justice Secretary has suggested he is open to compromise on a controversial hate crime Bill after widespread concern over its impact on free speech. 

Holyrood’s Justice Committee has received nearly 2,000 responses to its inquiry into the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, 145 of which were published on Friday. 

While there is support for some aspects of the Bill, the responses reveal serious concerns about the new crime of ‘stirring up hatred’. 

In a statement, Humza Yousaf said he wanted to find “common ground and compromise where necessary,” and that he would consider the responses “very carefully”. 

“I welcome the many responses that support the main purpose of the Bill – to make clear that crimes motivated by hatred and prejudice will not be tolerated in modern Scotland,” he said.

“The Bill does not seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate in any way but aims to achieve the correct balance between protecting those who suffer from the scourge of hate crime whilst respecting people’s freedom of expression.”

The Christian Institute has joined a broad spectrum of critics, including the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Police Federation, the Humanist Society Scotland, comedian Rowan Atkinson and writer Val McDermid. 

The Scottish Newspaper Society warned that the legislation “poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in its broadest sense”.

It added: “The Bill creates the equal potential for vexatious complaints, and commentators in news publications and broadcasts would be primary targets.”

The BBC is the latest organisation to criticise the Bill.  In a highly unusual intervention, BBC Scotland released a statement saying that it “strongly shares the concerns expressed by the Scottish Newspaper Society as to the impact on freedom of expression of this Bill and would align itself with that submission.”


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