The Faculty of Advocates has raised concerns over “unintended consequences” for freedom of speech contained within the draft hate crimes Bill.
Consultation on the proposed legislation ended on 24th July and has already faced criticism from the Scottish Police Federation, the Catholic Church in Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland.
The body of legal experts said it agreed with the principles of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, but warned there is “no alternative but to reconsider” it due to fears over freedom of speech.
It claimed the draft legislation would trigger a “large number of prosecutions” with “no likelihood of being enforced” if the legal system was not prepared.
The statement said: “The Faculty agrees with many of the proposals made by Lord Bracadale in his Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Scotland.
“The Faculty does, however, have concerns regarding some potential unintended consequences of the legislation and particular aspects of it.
“These concerns relate to the potential impact of certain sections of the Bill on freedom of expression and the potential which the Bill, if enacted, would have in terms of a chilling effect on legitimate, if controversial, debate and the performing arts.
“The Faculty’s response also questions whether the approach taken in a number of respects in relation only to particular characteristics is appropriate.
“In light of the difficulties which exist with the current text, the Faculty considers that there is no alternative but to reconsider the draft Bill.”
The draft legislation updates the list of characteristics protected under hate crimes and proposes the addition of age to this list.
If passed by Parliament, the Bill would also provide for new “stirring up” of hatred offences that would apply to all characteristics.
These offences currently only apply to racial hatred.
Criticism has also come in from the Scottish Conservatives who have called on the Scottish Government to scrap the proposed legislation.
Scottish Conservative justice secretary Liam Kerr MSP said: “The very principles of free speech itself are under threat.
“Genuine hate crime should be punished but this law goes too far.
“These warnings from the faculty are another major setback for an ill-conceived piece of legislation.
“There is still time for the SNP to withdraw it and for Humza Yousaf to rethink the execution of his Bill.”
Picture: A general view of graffiti on a wall. ( PA).