Rowan Atkinson joins backlash against Scottish hate crime law

Amy Johnson
·2-min read
English actor Sir Rowan Atkinson attends 'Che Tempo Che Fa' tv show at Rai Milan Studios on October 7, 2018 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Andrea Diodato/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
English actor Sir Rowan Atkinson attends 'Che Tempo Che Fa' tv show at Rai Milan Studios on October 7, 2018 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Andrea Diodato/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Rowan Atkinson is the latest high-profile figure to put his name to a letter opposing the Scottish government's Hate Crime Bill.

Other famous names to have signed include authors Christopher Brookmyre and Val McDermid, actor Elaine C Smith and playwright Alan Bissett as they claim freedom of expression could be threatened through the implementation of the Bill.

"The right to critique ideas, philosophical, religious and other, must be protected to allow an artistic and democratic society to flourish," part of the letter states.

Read more: Christian Bale names Rowan Atkinson as acting inspiration

If the Bill were passed by Scottish Parliament it would provide for new “stirring up” of hatred offences that would apply to all characteristics. These offences currently only apply to racial hatred.

The letter voices concerns over the Bill's proposal to not require proof of intent over "stirring up" offences.

Opposition to the Bill has been voiced by multiple parties. (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Opposition to the Bill has been voiced by multiple parties. (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

It has been co-ordinated by the Humanist Society Scotland, with its chief executive Fraser Sutherland stating: “The Bill as proposed has behind it some sound intentions, however it is clear from the broad support to our joint letter that concerns remain about poorly drafted provisions.

“The failure of the Bill to require intent to be proven in court on some offences risks a significant chilling effect on free expression.

“This is why the UN Rabat Plan has six tests on controlling hate speech including that any laws must ensure intent is proven. This strikes a sensible balance between protecting individuals from hate crime and protecting freedom of expression and the Bill needs amending to properly achieve this.”

The letter adds the "well meaning" Bill risks stifling the ability to articulate or criticise belied, including those of a religious nature.

Rowan Atkinson visits the SiriusXM Studios on October 23, 2018 in New York City.  (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
Rowan Atkinson visits the SiriusXM Studios on October 23, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

It says: “As currently worded, the Bill could frustrate rational debate and discussion, which has a fundamental role in society including in artistic endeavour.

“The arts play a key part in shaping Scotland’s identity, in addition to being a significant economic contributor.”

Read more: Piers Morgan releasing book on ‘war on free speech’

The Mr Bean actor has previously spoke out in support of "free speech" back in 2012 when he defended his "right to offend".

Atkinson, 65, delivered a speech as part of the Defend Free Speech campaign which sought to reform section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 that outlaws "threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour".

With additional reporting by PA.

Watch the latest videos from Yahoo UK News