No Laughing Matter: Scottish Comedians and Lawyers Raise Concern Over New Hate Speech Law

391px-Hans_von_Aachen_-_Two_Laughing_Men_(Self-portrait)There is a new controversy over free speech this week. The Faculty of Advocates, which represents Scotland’s legal profession, has warned that new changes in the country’s hate speech laws could sweep too broadly to include even comedians who are viewed as insulting to a range of different groups. The new law would extend hate speech crimes to “offensive” statements concerning LGBT+ and intersex people, as well as adding provisions on age, disability and religion. It is a trend that concerns many free speech advocates as well as comedians. In the United States, six out of ten students now view offensive jokes to be hate speech.

We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in Europe (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). We have seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here and here).

Under the provisions of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill sweeping language would be extended to an equally sweeping array of groups. The government website raises more concerns with its highly evasive language. It assures that the new language will not impact free speech because the law says it will respect free speech. However, the criminalization covers any language that is deemed as “stirr[ing] up hatred” for any of these groups.  Here is just part of the explainer:

Part 1 makes provision relating to the aggravation of offences by prejudice. It provides that a criminal offence is aggravated if either: the offender evinces malice and ill-will towards the victim based on the victim’s membership of a group defined by reference to a listed characteristic, or the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by malice and ill-will towards any such group. The listed characteristics are age, disability, race (and related characteristics), religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. 7.

Part 2 creates offences of stirring up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to a listed characteristic. It also creates offences of possessing inflammatory material with a view to communicating the material in circumstances where there is an intention to stir up hatred or it is likely that hatred would be stirred up. The listed characteristics are the same as those in Part 1.

That is hardly comforting.  Putting aside the rising number criminal complaints over offensive speech, European laws are creating a glacial chilling effect on speech. For example we discussed how decades of anti-free speech policies in Germany have reduced the expectations of citizens in that country to the level of an authoritarian regime. A survey, conducted by the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach(and published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) found that only 18 percent of Germans feel free to express their views in public. Undeterred, leaders have called for greater limits on free speech during election periods.

Fortunately, the expanded list does not include (thus far) making fun of Scots for being Scottish:



23 thoughts on “No Laughing Matter: Scottish Comedians and Lawyers Raise Concern Over New Hate Speech Law”

  1. The whole “Hate speech” brouhaha has always been a problem. The simplest answer is to charge the miscreant with what he/she said and leave the why where it belongs, in the brain of whomever is sitting in the dock.

  2. If joy can’t be killed than neither can comedy

    Only fools try and kill jokes

    The Western “Left” including the anti-free-speech “tolerance and diversity” hate crimes proponents, want to kill off jokes.

    They may win more laws, but in the end they will fail. Nothing can kill joy if human life exists

  3. It is naive to lump the gay alphabet all together. There are differing political views in that scrabble. I have dear friends who are L’s and they absolutely despise the T’s! They do not want to be associated with them at all, and they say their numbers are legion.. Just FYI.

  4. How ridiculous. Humor is humor! The fact that a majority of US students and many others have no sense of humor any more is just unbelievable and extremely sad. I’m sorry I don’t have more descriptive words… I can’t imagine being married so long (over 30 years) without humor. I’d not want to spend my life with someone who refuses to laugh at himself or herself or at situations and life, nor be friends with anyone like this. Pitiful….

  5. Why aren’t lawyers ever included in these laws? We have feelings too and lots of people really do hate us. Besides, what happens if you tell a lawyer joke on an LGBT lawyer? At least Texas Aggies are not a protected group.

    1. honestlawyer – I thought the Aggies were protected by the Texas Constitution. 😉

  6. There are many comedians complaining that various laws are putting them out of business. We are going back to the days of arresting Mae West, Lennie Bruce and George Carlin. Only this time it is the left that is suppressing the speech.

    1. This should not be about comedians.

      Anything that a comedian says in a joke,
      An ordinary person should be able to joke about

      WE spend centuries getting speech right – mostly the left fighting a censorious right.
      Now suddenly the left is gone bonkers.

      There is no right to “not be offended”.
      If someone else’s remarks offend you – don’t listen, or make a better argument.

      Hate is a motive, not a crime. Hate speech is vile, but not a crime. It is however proof of a vile motive when an actual crime is committed.

      Defamation is not protected – but it is not criminal either.

      This is all nonsense.

      Destroy the right to free speech and the wheels come off everything.

  7. Excellent clip selection, Professor Turley, by the way! I needed a laugh this morning!

  8. The first time i heard LGBT, I thought it was some kind of new delicious sandwich.

    Anyone offended? Yes? Good!

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