Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson joins backlash against Scottish Government’s Hate Crime Bill.
Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson has joined a growing backlash against the Scottish Government’s proposed Hate Crime Bill amid fears it could limit freedom of expression.
The comedy legend has joined more than 20 prominent cultural figures in signing a letter which calls on Holyrood ministers to make significant changes to the new legislation.
Artists who have previously backed independence are also among those to sign, including crime writer Val McDermid, actress Elaine C Smith, and playwright Alan Bissett.
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf has said the Hate Crime bill would strike the right balance between respecting freedom of speech and tackling hate speech.
But opposition parties have raised concerns about the proposals, particularly with regard to elements of the new law aimed at preventing “stirring up hatred”.
Last month the Scottish Police Federation said the new hate crime law could leave officers having to determine what passes as free speech.
Now a letter co-ordinated by the Humanist Society Scotland and signed by a range of leading artists has raised further concerns.
It claims that the “well-meaning Bill” could “have unintended consequences” that result in “stifling free expression”.
The group adds: “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.
“The right to critique ideas, philosophical, religious and other must be protected to allow an artistic and democratic society to flourish.”
MSPs are due to vote on the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill for the first time later this year.
Last week senior lawyers also raised concerns over the “potential unintended consequences”.
The Faculty of Advocates said there could be a “large number of prosecutions” and said it would “question the rationale for legislation which has no likelihood of being rigorously enforced”.
It also said social media posts would fall foul of proposals as they stand on a “daily basis”.
Atkinson has previously campaigned against proposed laws under Tony Blair’s government that aimed to ban incitement to religious hatred.
He said they would threaten free speech, claiming opposing the laws was more than simply defending “some silly vicar jokes”.
Six SNP MPs – including Alex Salmond, Angus Robertson and Pete Wishart – later joined Tories, the Lib Dems in forcing the Bill to be watered down.
Other signatories to the letter include Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner; Nick Ross, the former Crimewatch presenter; and A C Grayling, the philosopher.
Fraser Sutherland, chief executive of Humanist Society Scotland said: “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.”
Scottish Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “This letter is just the latest opposition to a deeply flawed bill, which would criminalise the arts as well as well-intentioned members of the public who pose no threat.
“Everyone wants to eliminate hate crime.
“Humza Yousaf has now heard arguments from every perspective.
“The SNP must withdraw this bill and rethink the legislation.”