HATE CRIME BILL THREATENS FREEDOM TO SPEAK ABOUT MARRIAGE
It’s going to be more difficult to disagree with same-sex marriage in Scotland – and in the rest of the UK. The new hate crime Bill there seems to confuse disagreement with hatred.
C4M is particularly concerned as there is no free speech clause on marriage (unlike England, Wales and Northern Ireland). Our sister organisation, Scotland for Marriage, has circulated the following:
“The proposals, currently making their way through the Scottish Parliament, have drawn strident criticism from every corner of Scottish society because of the potential to shut down freedom of expression. This is because the Bill:
- has no free speech clause on marriage – unlike England, Wales and NI;
- could see people prosecuted for things said in the privacy of their own home;
- has no free speech clause protecting discussion of transgenderism – a controversial issue which totally undermines a ‘one man, one woman’ definition of marriage;
- has no backstop to prevent misuse of the law – unlike England and Wales where the Attorney General (or in Northern Ireland the DPP) must give permission to prosecute.
“Judges, police, lawyers, actors, comedians, academics, feminists, secularists, Christians, left and right wing commentators, civil liberties groups and politicians from almost every party have raised concerns about the hate crime Bill’s impact on free speech.”
The law covers all publications distributed in Scotland. If Police Scotland believe an English newspaper on sale in Edinburgh “is likely” to “stir up hatred”, they could get a warrant from a Scottish Court, drive down to London and arrest the editor.
C4M defends the freedom to speak out in defence of marriage.
We know that marriage can be a contentious subject and some activists would do anything to shut down the debate. That’s why, when same-sex marriage was going through the Westminster Parliament, C4M fought hard to get a marriage clause into the law on hate speech.
“In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, any discussion or criticism of marriage which concerns the sex of the parties to marriage shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”
Section 29JA, Public Order Act 1986 (as amended)
This important protection, which applies in England and Wales and is duplicated in Northern Ireland, allows people to speak freely about traditional marriage without fear of the criminal law.
It is troubling that this essential provision is missing from Scotland’s hate crime Bill, and C4M will be making representations to Scottish politicians to ensure this is addressed.