MSPs have been urged to back a dwelling defence in controversial new hate crime legislation.
Members of the Justice Committee on Tuesday refused to add the defence to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, which would offer protection to those who use hate speech within their own homes.
Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr pressed the amendment, which was defeated by seven votes to two.
Some groups have raised concern about the enforcement of the legislation in people’s homes, claiming heated dinner table discussions could be subject to police investigation.
But campaign group Free to Disagree has urged MSPs to reconsider, after the Law Commission abandoned plans to extend hate speech laws into people’s homes south of the border.
In a 500-page document published this week, commission chairman Lord Justice Green wrote: “The criminal team is looking at alternative ways in which the law might be reformed in order to ensure that these laws, which criminalise only the most serious forms of incitement, are compatible with both the right to freedom of expression and respect for one’s home and private family life.”
Free to Disagree spokesman Jamie Gillies said: “The opinion of eminent figures like Lord Justice Green should be taken into account as MSPs continue scrutiny of the Hate Crime Bill.
“A dwelling defence has existed in public order laws south of the border for many years and has worked well.
“Now law chiefs have confirmed that it should remain in place in future, if a proposed extension to the hate crime laws goes ahead.
“This safeguard helps provide an appropriate balance between tackling hate crimes and respecting the privacy of citizens. The Scottish Parliament must ensure that it is adopted in Scottish legislation.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has previously said a dwelling defence could be misused by groups of organised extremists, who can hold meetings or other gatherings in someone’s home and thus be protected from prosecution.
During his appearance at the Justice Committee this week, Mr Yousaf quoted Michael Clancy, the director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland, who told the committee in November: “There is no sanctuary, in that sense, for most aspects of the criminal law and I do not think that there should be a sanctuary when it comes to hate speech.”
The Justice Secretary said of Mr Clancy’s comments: “I very much agree with him.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our plans to ensure stirring up hatred offences can be dealt with in all places have been backed by the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and a clear majority of the cross-party Justice Parliamentary Committee.
“The new stirring up hatred offences are committed if a person undertakes threatening or abusive behaviour with the intention of stirring up hatred. They do not prevent people expressing controversial, challenging or offensive views, nor does it seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate in any way.
“The harmful and corrosive effects of hatred being stirred up can be felt by the groups targeted by the behaviour across communities including when the stirring up hatred takes places within a dwelling.”