SCOTLAND’s Jewish community has warned ministers that amendments made to controversial hate crime laws could provide a “get out of jail free card” for Holocaust denial.

Holyrood’s Justice Committee is examining the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime Bill after Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf amended the threshold from “likely” to stir up hatred to “intend only”.

MSPs called on faith and belief groups to have their say on the proposals about concerns were raised over the definition of “inflammatory” material under the new law – amid fears certain religious texts could fall foul of the new rules.

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Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (ScoJec), told the committee he believes that the amendment to “intent only” this could provide a defence in cases of Holocaust denial.

He said: “I think that the amendment that was announced by the Cabinet Secretary is retrograde, it essentially provides a get out of jail free card for something that you’ll see very often in hate-filled posts on the internet.

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“That people having posted their hatred will end their comments with ‘just saying’ or ‘just asking’.

“They are now given a get out of jail free card because they could just say ‘oh we didn’t intend to cause offence, we were merely asking a question about whether the Holocaust happened’.”

The ScoJec director added: “Unfortunately anti-Semitism is very much on the rise these days and I take the view, therefore, that it’s the victim who needs protected.

“Yes, freedom of speech is important. But there’s a balancing exercise that needs to be done, the right to free speech is not unqualified.”

Committee convener Adam Tomkins said Mr Borowski’s comments were “quite a different perspective” to the other evidence they had heard over the past weeks.

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Other aspects of the Bill deal with “possession of inflammatory material”, which some religious groups fear might include certain religious texts and lead to malicious complaints.

Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said: “We’ve given the example before of the Catholic understanding of the human person and the belief that gender is not fluid and changeable.

“And that might be something that could be considered inflammatory by some people and lead to a police investigation.”

Isobel Ingham-Barrow, head of policy at the Muslim Engagement and Development organisation, said there is a need for “clear definition and guidelines as to what content is inflammatory”.

David Bradwell, who represents the Church of Scotland, agreed more clarity is needed.

Mr Bradwell said documents such as the 17th century Westminster Confession are an important part of Presbyterian history but sections of it could “very well be seen” as causing hatred towards Roman Catholics.

The committee also heard evidence from publishers about the potential impact on freedom of expression.

John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, said: “I still think there is a significant danger that it will make institutions like ours and everybody else involved in communication still open to investigation and action.

“Even if those actions were subsequently unsuccessful the process of investigation and all the consequences of that are as serious as being convicted.”

Mr McLellan said most publishers would seek to avoid situations where they were embroiled in lengthy and costly investigations.

Neil Barber of the Secular Society added that if people were having sleepless nights anticipating a potential lengthy court case then they simply wouldn’t make the point in the first place.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson, Liam Kerr, said: “A free press is the bedrock of our democracy and any threat to it must be robustly challenged.

“Publishers have voiced grave concerns over what they will feel comfortable saying in the future.

“It’s clear once again that the SNP have still not fixed the mess that they’ve made of the Hate Crime Bill.

“Any curbing of the freedom of the press would have disastrous impacts on our democracy and show Scotland in an extremely poor light.

“The Hate Crime Bill continues to face a mountain of criticism – it’s time the SNP started listening and acted on these concerns.”