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FSU Edinburgh Speakeasy: Can Words Really Hurt?

October 25, 2023 at 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm UTC+0

Can Words Really Hurt?

A philosophical, legal and common sense conversation.

Almost two and a half years after achieving royal assent, Scotland’s controversial Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act is due to be implemented in 2024. It was reported recently that Police Scotland are setting up a special unit to deal with the new hate crimes that are now codified in law and training is underway of police officers. Widespread concern about the chilling effect on free speech of this legislation was one of the reasons for setting up a dedicated Free Speech Union office in Scotland back in 2021.  

Although the new legal framework is only now being implemented, there has clearly been a profound shift in the past decade in the way we understand the power of words. This event will take a step back and ask, how did attempts to police the emotion of ‘hate’ come about? What underpins the changed legal framework whereby words can be understood as a cause of ‘harm’? We bring together an expert panel who have not only thought deeply about these issues but have also been actively involved in shaping public debate in defence of free speech. 

About the Speakers

Holly Lawford-Smith is an Associate Professor in Political Philosophy in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. She is an Editorial Board member for the Journal of Political Philosophy and the Journal of Controversial Ideas. Her latest book, Sex Matter: Essays in Gender Critical Philosophy addresses a cluster of related questions that arise from the conflict of interests between rights based on sex and rights based on gender identity, including questions such as, is ‘TERF’ a slur and is gender-critical speech ‘hate speech’?

Kapil Summan is the editor of Scottish Legal News, a daily news service for lawyers and is on the Advisory Council of Free Speech Union in Scotland.

Dr Michael Foran is a lecturer in Public Law at the University of Glasgow. He is an expert in constitutional, equality, and non-discrimination law. His PhD thesis, “Equality Before the Law: Equal Dignity, Wrongful Discrimination and the Rule of Law” won the Yorke Prize from the University of Cambridge and will be published this December.

There will, of course, be plenty of time for discussion, as well as socialising with fellow free speech supporters.

Wednesday 25th October

The Counting House, 34 West Nicolson St, Newington, Edinburgh EH8 9DD.

Panel debate 7pm – 8.45pm, (doors open 6.30pm), bar open until 10pm.

TICKETS are £5 for FSU members, £10 for non-members.

JOIN the FSU to get discounts at all events.



October 25, 2023
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm UTC+0
Event Category:


The Free Speech Union
020 3920 7865
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The Counting House
38 West Nicolson Street
Edinburgh, EH8 9DD United Kingdom
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