Friday, 17 June 2011

At Last Some Voices of Reason on the Religious Hatred Law

Both the Herald and Scotsman have stories quoting various people expressing reservations about the upcoming Religious Hatred bill the SNP is planning to introduce. It's particularly interesting that some of the reservations are coming from the churches themselves.

After meeting Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham, who is piloting the Bill, the Right Reverend David Arnott, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “The speed at which it is being rushed through means it appears to lack scrutiny and clarity. The Government is rightly asking for support from across civic Scotland, but is not giving civic Scotland much time to make sure they are happy with the content.”

Catholic Church spokesman Peter Kearney said the “truncated timescale” reinforced the need for close scrutiny. He added: “Equally, however, the timetable does suggest that urgent political attention is being given to a high-profile problem. Tackling incidents of football-related intolerance in this way will allow a wider and longer debate to take place on sectarianism and its underlying causes, without the constant distraction of football-related incidents, which statistically account for less than 15% of sectarian offences in Scotland.”


The Law Society has also urged caution.

However, the Law Society of Scotland said the Bill is being pushed through Parliament too quickly and that the resulting lack of scrutiny may create legislation that is open to successful challenge.

Bill McVicar, convener of the society's criminal law committee, said: "We understand the importance of tackling sectarianism. This is a very serious issue and one that needs both attention and action from our political leaders. However, it is because of the importance of this issue that the Scottish Government needs to allow adequate time to ensure the legislation can be properly scrutinised.


It's good that there are now some prominent naysayers in this debate.

The actual text of the proposed bill has now been published here. Looking at it, it does seem less worrying that I feared it might be. I still don't agree with the restrictions on free speech, but it looks as though it won't have much effect on criticisms of Islam. First, the part of the bill that requires physical presence is specifically limited to "in relation to a regulated football match". Second, the part that relates to communications rather than physical presence requires an element of threat to be present and includes a reasonableness defence. Either Condition A or Condition B below must be fulfilled for the act to constitute an offence.

Condition A is that—
(a) the material consists of, contains or implies a threat, or an incitement, to carry out
a seriously violent act against a person or against persons of a particular
description,
(b) the material or the communication of it would be likely to cause a reasonable
person to suffer fear or alarm, and
(c) the person communicating the material—
(i) intends by doing so to cause fear or alarm, or
(ii) is reckless as to

...

Condition B is that—
(a) the material is threatening, and
(b) the person communicating it intends by doing so to stir up religious hatred.
(6) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to show that the communication of the material was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable.


The official press release about the bill also says this:

The offence will NOT:

Stop peaceful preaching or proselytising

Restrict freedom of speech including the right to criticise or comment on religion or non-religious beliefs, even in harsh terms

Criminalise jokes and satire about religion or non-religious belief


I still wish the bill would go away but it at least seems to be not as bad as I expected.

7 comments:

  1. @Cheradenine Zakalwe,

    " ... but it looks as though it won't have much effect on criticisms of Islam.

    Cheradenine did you write this before you had your first morning coffee, the communications section of this bill has the power to send you off to Saughton prison for 5 years plus for authoring this blog, I suggest you read it more carefully and attend Edinburgh Sheriff Court to witness first hand how these statute laws are translated in the reality of the court.

    I stress this bill has the power to close down this blog and place its author in Saughton prison for 5 years plus*.

    *Depending on how the charges are configured you could face multiple charges on a single actionable offence, 5 years on each charge.

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  2. There is nothing in this blog that is threatening or unreasonable.

    The Incitement to Religious Hatred laws already exist in England and Wales but not in Scotland. Lots of anti-Islam blogs are flourishing there. The laws are rarely used because they, too, require an element that is "threatening".

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  3. @Cheradenine Zakalwe,

    "The Incitement to Religious Hatred laws already exist in England and Wales but not in Scotland."

    Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 (the 2003 Act) created an aggravation of religious prejudice in relation to any offence. Where an offence has been proved to be aggravated by religious prejudice then the court must take that aggravation into account in determining the appropriate sentence.

    The Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland) Act 2009 brings Scotland into line with the rest of the UK by widening the definition of hate crimes.

    I beg to differ and so does Scots law, Scotland probably now has the most draconian "hate speech" and incitement to religious hatred laws in the Western World.

    Presently if the blog was construed to be "islamophobic" by a muslim reader and caused him/her alarm, fear and offence that is a breach of the peace (the criminal offence) the appendage of aggravation to the breach of the peace charge reinforces the "subjective" element of the prosecution and of the accuser - a kind of catch 22 law.

    The communications section of the new law would remove the need for the (real world breach of the peace) crime/charge and make the prosecution purely subjective, not only that the subjective burden of proof of innocence would be on the accused - (1) to show that the communication of the material was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable.

    Fail to prove your opinion was/is reasonable and you face a 5 year prison term.

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  4. "Scotland probably now has the most draconian "hate speech" and incitement to religious hatred laws in the Western World."

    I don't think that's true. There are far more draconian laws on the continent where people have been indicted and convicted even for making statements that were undisputedly true.

    I appreciate your concern, though.

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  5. @Cheradenine Zakalwe,

    In total 4,165 charges of race crime were reported in 2010-11, 3.6% fewer than in 2009-10. The number of charges reported in the earlier period from 2006-07 to 2009-10 has been consistent at around 4,350 a year.

    Sixty two percent of the charges related to racially aggravated harassment and behaviour, and 38% related to another offence with a racial aggravation*. This is consistent with the breakdown in previous years."

    Sense a bit of snobbery in your response are you saying that these cases (of Scots thought crimes, if you will allow) are not worthy of being opposed as they do not have the prominance of a Geert Wilders figure, I think Mr. Wilders would condemn these small man prosecutions as much as his own prosecution.

    *Note the hint at the 62% prosecutions without a supporting concrete crime ("another offence") - exclusively racially aggravated harassment and behaviour.

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  6. I don't see how you derive snobbery from what I said. I don't think these are exclusively "thought crimes". As I understand it, these figures would relate to incidents that are otherwise crimes, but the person may have multiple charges brought against him for the same incident. There can't possibly be that many thought crime prosecutions going on or we would hear more about it in the news.

    Anyone who challenges Islam faces some risk. What should we do? Just submit?

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  7. "these figures would relate to incidents that are otherwise crimes, ..."

    Exactly, in these cases justice should have been BLIND as the criminal law was sufficient, the all seeing "thought crimes" are politically motivated in practice tools of conditioning and intimidation.

    "Anyone who challenges Islam faces some risk. What should we do? Just submit?"

    NEVER!

    The hate crime laws are also a political snare already set on the statute books ready to capture the Scottish counter-jihad should they start to become powerful and prominent.

    ReplyDelete