Hate Crime Act: Police Scotland must now show this poorly framed law really can be enforced in a 'proportionate' way – Scotsman comment

As new law comes into force on Monday, the Scottish Government continues to brush aside multiple warnings about its potentially adverse effects

Roddy Dunlop KC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, warns police could be inundated by complaints from people “who claim to have been insulted by something that's been said online”; the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents says officers may be drawn into “abusive spats” online, taking them away from more serious duties; and the Scottish Police Federation believes a lack of training may have left some officers “confused regarding what is or is not a crime under the Act”. Humza Yousaf, however, seems to think everything will be fine when the Hate Crime Act comes into force on Monday.

The First Minister said he had “absolute faith in the police’s ability to weed out vexatious complaints” and deal with new ‘stirring up hate’ offences in an “appropriate” way. Scotland is about to find out who's right, and whether or not this Act is another example of badly drafted legislation slipping through the Scottish Parliament’s light-touch scrutiny.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yousaf told MSPs that stirring-up offences and the recording of what the police call “non-crime hate incidents” had been around for years. However, it is a mistake to think that significantly expanding the scope of laws and practices, even long-established ones, will never cause a problem.

If large numbers of people suddenly discover the police have recorded “non-crime hate incidents” against their name, or if such incidents can be revealed during enhanced background checks by Disclosure Scotland for jobs like teaching, there will be hell to pay. A “hate incident” represents a finding of fact despite the lack of legal process. It should at least be an “alleged hate incident” but, given the likelihood of vexatious complaints, they should be recorded anonymously.

The interaction between poorly drawn legislation and a police force that has shown some alarming signs of over-zealousness could give the growing army of culture warriors a new weapon with which to try to ruin the lives of people they dislike. However, this law is coming and it is now for Police Scotland to prove it can be policed in a proportionate way. If not, politicians must be prepared to think again – and quickly.