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Ex-editor issues warning over impact of new hate crime law on press

John McLellan 1A former editor has warned planned new hate crime legislation could result in an increase in legal costs for Scottish newspapers.

John McLellan, Scottish Newspaper Society director and former editor of The Scotsman, has criticised aspects of the Scottish government’s new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.

The new legislation states that any person carrying out an action “likely” to stir up hatred would be committing an offence irrespective of their intention.

In his column for The Scotsman, John speculated this could lead to police action being taken against newspaper columnists by political activists who disgaree with their views.

John, pictured, wrote: “It is one of the most common criticisms of the UK’s Press regulation system that hundreds of third party complaints from pressure groups and campaigns about the views of columnists are dismissed every year because the regulator regards adjudicating on taste and decency as counter to freedom of expression, yet the legislation would take these complaints out of the hands of a non-statutory regulator into those of the police.”

He said it would not be difficult to see political activists making formal complaints against some writers, noting any such action “also criminalises the publication and distribution of offending material”.

He added: “Be it mainstream publications, social media, pamphleteering, theatre or political debate, it’s not so much the chances of convictions but the opportunity for targeted disruption through the legal process which is the problem.

“It is very easy to use the old line of “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to fear”, but the very process of proving there has been no wrong-doing or justifying what has been written or said is in itself an infringement of freedom of expression.”