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No joke: Comedians could fall foul of Scottish hate crimes proposal, lawyers warn

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Comedians at the world-famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe could end up in court if they make jokes about LGBT+ people that fall foul of a proposed hate crimes law in Scotland, lawyers have warned.

Under the new law being considered by the Scottish parliament, existing hate crime legislation that covers race would be extended to LGBT+ and intersex people, as well as adding provisions on age, disability and religion.

“It’s up to the police to enforce the law, but the way things are going at the moment, it would certainly catch some of the more offensive jokes,” Iain Buchan of Glasgow-based law firm Gay Lawyers told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

The Faculty of Advocates, which represents Scotland’s legal profession, has warned that the legislation poses a threat to free speech and the performing arts in general - including stand-up comedy, a mainstay of the annual arts festival.

Under the provisions of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, introduced to the Scottish parliament in April, people associated with a performance that is deemed to be offensive would be “engaged in potentially criminal activity”.

The lawyers’ association said this “could be viewed as having a chilling effect on the freedom of expression,” according to a statement published on its website.

This year’s festival, the world’s biggest arts event, was cancelled due to coronavirus.

Held each year in August, a record three million tickets were sold at the Fringe last year, with more than 250,000 people attending almost 4,000 shows across the city.

Jordan Brookes won the main prize at the Dave’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards, following in the footsteps of British writer and broadcaster Stephen Fry and double Oscar winner Emma Thompson, who won in 1981 with other members of the Cambridge Footlights.

Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org

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