Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf ready to make U-turn on Hate Crime Bill

Humza Yousaf is expected to perform a second U-turn on the controversial Hate Crime Bill when he appears before the Justice Committee on Tuesday.

Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Justice.
Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, the Justice Secretary said he had been giving serious reflection to a controversial clause which says actors and directors could be convicted for stirring up hatred during the production and performance of a play.

The clause was opposed by those in the theatre world who feared there was a risk it would criminalise legitimate artistic expression and represent a clamp-down on free speech.

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Giving evidence to the justice committee last month, David Greig, the artistic director of the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, said: "I worry that a very deep problem is created, because the nature of it [theatre] is people standing on stage representing points of view we're expected to challenge and disapprove of very wholeheartedly."

Yousaf told Scotland on Sunday he saw no reason actors and directors who stirred up hatred should be exempt from prosecution, but said he had been told there were other existing “art and part” laws that could be applied, rendering the clause unnecessary.

The move comes months after Yousaf agreed to amend the Bill to ensure a conviction of ‘stirring up’ hatred would be possible only where it was shown that someone intended to do so “through their actions or behaviour".

The original draft had said a conviction would also be possible where abusive and threatening behaviour was “likely to” stir up hatred.

The Bill has faced fierce opposition and prompted 2,000 submissions from religious groups, lawyers, artists, journalists and the Scottish Police Federation.

The Justice Secretary is also expected to announce the chair of a new working group to look into the creation of a stand-alone offence of misogynistic harassment when he appears before the committee on Tuesday.

His appearance marks the end of the Stage One evidence sessions with a report expected by December 18.

MSPs will then vote on whether the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill should proceed to stages two and three for further scrutiny, amendments and ultimately approval or refusal for the proposed legislation becoming law.

For the full interview with the Justice Secretary see the Scotland on Sunday and online at Scotsman.com tomorrow – subscribe here

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