Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Hate Crime Bill: Adam Tomkins MSP ‘afraid’ at reaction to withdrawn amendment

Hate crime bill amendment
Scottish Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins.

The Scottish Parliament’s justice committee convener claims he is “disturbed” and “a little afraid” by the backlash to an amendment that sought to exempt “criticism of transgender identity” from hate crime laws.

Adam Tomkins MSP said the reaction over the last few days to the amendment on transgender identity made it “even more obvious and apparent that we absolutely must define what we mean”.

His remarks come after Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf announced on Monday that he had removed a planned freedom of expression amendment to the proposed Hate Crime and Public Order Bill, which seeks to consolidate and modernise hate crime laws in Scotland.

The move followed concerns from equality groups that the specific focus on transgender identity could leave individuals feeling “targeted and marginalised”.

It also comes after a personal intervention by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over accusations of transphobia in the SNP, amid months of infighting and a bitter row over controversial changes to the Gender Recognition Act.

However, Mr Tomkins, who is a professor of public law at Glasgow University and convener of the justice committee, said he has been “disturbed” by the reaction to what he claims were “really quite modest, innocent and perfectly reasonable amendments”.

Mr Yousaf tabled an amendment last week to the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill that would have protected criticism of transgender identity as freedom of expression.

However, on Monday, the justice secretary revealed he had pulled the amendments in relation to freedom of expression and instead said he hoped to “achieve consensus” on a broad freedom of expression clause that covers all protected characteristics, “so no group feels targeted”.

‘Alarmed and distressed’

Mr Tomkins said: “I am alarmed and distressed, and perhaps even, if I’m honest, a little afraid of the reaction or aspects of the reaction to it (the amendment).”

He also made reference to remarks made by Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie on Monday, who claims there are “shockingly overt homophobic and transphobic amendments” within the bill.

Mr Tomkins told MSPs: “I think we have come to the point where if we are going to criminalise hate speech on grounds of transgender identity, we have got to define what we mean.

“I struggle to find an amendment that I thought was shockingly or overtly transphobic.

“Stating that sex is an immutable biological characteristic does not make you transphobic.

“Stating that there are only two sexes, does that make you transphobic, really?

“Using the word woman or man in equivalent terms or pronouns in a certain way, does that make you transphobic?”

Mr Tomkins added that he felt a “conclusion had been reached behind closed doors” with the parties’ representative in parliament for a catch-all clause to cover all protected characteristics.

He also said if the challenge is to combat the problems of vagueness in the criminal law, then having a generic free speech provision “might not be the solution that some people seem to think it is”.

‘Further isolation’ of transgender communities

However, SNP MSP Fulton Macgregor, defending the decision to scrap the amendment, said he is “worried that this could lead to further isolation or marginalisation of our transgender communities”.

He said there “must be freedom of expression”, adding there has to be “scope for people to hold strongly held views on both sides of this debate”.

But he added that he is “glad” the amendment has been withdrawn and MSPs can “go back to the drawing board”.

Hate crime bill amendment
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.

In response to Mr Tomkins, the justice secretary said he recognised that there is an obligation on the Scottish Government to be “specific and provide that clarity” in terms of the legislation.

He added that he met a “number of stakeholders” on Friday who said the focus on being specific had “left groups feeling like they’re being targeted and marginalised”.

The committee will continue scrutinising its stage two amendments next week, with a freedom of expression clause coming forward at the final stage three proceedings.

Mr Yousaf added: “We are going to come back at stage three with, hopefully, a freedom of expression clause that will still be robust, that will still be strong, that will still provide the clarity and the precision that is needed but will hopefully not target or make any group feel they are being targeted in any way, shape or form.”

Free speech concerns

However, free speech campaigners claim their concerns remain “wholly unresolved” after Tuesday’s debate.

Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Free to Disagree campaign, said: “MSPs on the Justice Committee have pledged to come up with a ‘catch-all’ free speech provision before stage three.

“However, drafting a provision that allows robust speech on the plethora of topics associated with the characteristics covered – not least contentious topics like transgender identity – will be no easy task.

“In all likelihood, the final result will be a weak, ill-defined clause that lacks the forensic detail required for criminal legislation.”

Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network, said: β€œWe have no problem with an amendment to the bill upholding, for example, the freedom to discuss or criticise policies or policy proposals, so long as it applies fairly to all.

“We welcome the withdrawal this morning of amendments that were specifically about trans people, and could have been interpreted as giving the green light to, for example, deliberately referring to trans people using the wrong pronouns or the wrong first name.

“That is not something that it’s reasonable to encourage – if someone insisted on treating a work colleague that way, it would be unlawful harassment contrary to the Equality Act.”