THE satirists behind a new play about restrictions in freedom of speech have criticised the fact Scotland still has a blasphemy law.

Have I Got News For You veteran and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop and comedy scriptwriter Nick Newman have spoken out as their play Trial By Laughter began a run at the King's Theatre in Glasgow last night.

Leading non-faith group, the Humanist Society Scotland believe the law - which was last invoked more than 170 years ago - should be repealed by ministers with the courage to "show moral leadership". In a Twitter Q&A run by the Kings Theatre ahead of the performance, Humanist Society Scotland asked what their perception of Scotland still having a Blasphemy law was.

In response the playwrights said: "Blasphemy law is used around the world all the time as an excuse to stifle political and social debate, for example, female rights. If we want to guarantee that blasphemy can’t be used as weapon against political criticism, we should get rid of the law. I can’t believe Scotland is less liberal than England."


Commenting on the intervention, Humanist Society Scotland chief executive Gordon MacRae said: "We are pleased more voices have added pressure to scrapping what is one of Europe's last remaining blasphemy laws.

"The Scottish Government are currently consulting on hate crime laws and have said they wish to hear people's views on the blasphemy law. We would encourage everyone who opposes such laws to respond and call for the scrapping of the blasphemy law."

The archaic law was last used in 1843 to convict Edinburgh bookseller Thomas Paterson who was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for selling blasphemous literature.

The play is inspired by events over 200 year ago when bookseller, publisher and satirist William Hone stood trial for “parodying religion, the despotic government and the libidinous monarchy.”

He was charged with Blasphemy and Sedition, faced time in jail and deportation to Australia.


In essence, he was having a laugh at the expense of the Establishment. But Hone chose not to hire expensive lawyers to make the expected legal arguments. Instead, he represented himself in court by telling a series of jokes.

His plan was to illustrate that satire has to be allowed in a democracy, that fun has its essential place.

Hone’s place in history had been forgotten until now through a play which details Hone’s courtroom dramas.