Christian Institute warns over Scottish hate legislation: 'Innocent people are going to be convicted of a hate crime'

(Photo: Unsplash/Sherry Xu)

Scotland's hate crime Bill will leave "innocent people" at risk of hate crime convictions unless more changes are made, the Christian Institute has warned.

Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has made some concessions after coming under pressure from a wide range of critics, including Christians, secularists, lawyers, police, comedians and the BBC. 

The legislation was recently amended so that a crime has only been committed if there is an "intent" to stir up hatred. 

In further concessions this week, Mr Yousaf confirmed that portions of the Bill covering freedom of expression and religion will be amended so that "mere expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule and insult" are not criminalised.

The Christian Institute's Simon Calvert has welcomed the assurances from the Justice Secretary but called on the Scottish Government to go much further. 

"They're going to have to go a long way to satisfy the very wide range of critics that they've got of this legislation," he told BBC Scotland.

"If they get it wrong, innocent people are going to be convicted of a hate crime"

"The concepts at the heart of it are too vague, the thresholds are too low, the free speech clauses are not adequate, and the Government has only got one chance to get this right.

"If they get it wrong, innocent people are going to be convicted of a hate crime."

Jamie Gillies, spokesperson for Free to Disagree, a campaign group opposed to the legislation, said that broadening free speech provisions on religion would "ensure that robust debate on religious and non-religious beliefs is less likely to be caught out". 

He echoed calls for the Scottish Government to go further in its revisions of the legislation by introducing a free speech clause on transgender identity and 'dwelling defence' to protect free speech in the home. 

He added that terms like 'hatred', 'abuse' and 'inflammatory' were still "undefined".

"Most importantly, the Government has still not articulated what kind of speech and behaviour it intends to catch via the 'stirring up' offences that isn't already caught by existing laws," he said. 

"Unless they can answer this basic question, there is no justification for these offences, which risk undermining other vital liberties."