Setbacks around the rollout of Police Scotland’s new case management system is the central reason behind the failure to commence enforcement of the Bill, with the IT project’s completion delayed by six months until the end of this year, letters between the Scottish Government and the force obtained by The Scotsman confirm.
Police chiefs have also raised concerns about the level of resourcing and training available to police officers in meetings with justice secretary Keith Brown earlier this year.
It comes after the Index on Censorship warned of the consequences of Police Scotland recording “non-crime hate incidents”, which see police recording details of incidents where they believe comments are motivated by prejudice or hate.
The Hate Crime Bill caused controversy in Holyrood and dogged the then-justice secretary Humza Yousaf, who was forced into several concessions after opposition to the Bill.
However, it was backed 82 votes to 32 in April 2021, and created a criminal offence of stirring up hatred against protected groups, expanding on a similar offence based on race that had been on the statute books for decades, as well as consolidating a number of different pieces of hate crime legislation.
Despite amendments, opponents labelled the Bill “fundamentally flawed” as it passed the final hurdle nearly two years ago.
The delay to the Bill being enforced has been caused by Police Scotland’s desire to complete the rollout of their new crime and case management systems, which will replace the many disparate systems from the local forces prior to the creation of the national force.
In a letter sent by assistant chief constable Gary Ritchie in February, which states implementation of the Bill in 2022 is “impractical” and requests a delay until spring 2023, the force warns of “constraints on operational policing resources; training resources and scheduling capacity”, alongside “data engineering resources; and business intelligence reporting capability and capacity”.
A later letter, sent by deputy chief constable Fiona Taylor in September, confirms a six-month delay to the completion of the IT project to December 2023.
She writes: “Police Scotland has been clear from the outset that the delivery of this legislation requires to coincide with our roll-out of COS Crime system … this is a critical element of what is a massive and complex project and requires significant resources to co-ordinate and deliver effectively.”
The letters also highlight concerns about “significant public scrutiny” around how the Bill is implemented.
In a response in October last yearfrom minister for equalities, Christina McKelvie, she states the Government “recognise[s] the complexity and scale of this project and the challenges associated with commencing the Act prior to its completion” and requests a meeting in December to agree a date for commencement.
A Scottish Government spokesperson confirmed to The Scotsman the earliest commencement date was now “early 2024”, coinciding with the completion of Police Scotland’s IT project.
The spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is working closely with justice partners to ensure effective implementation of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021.
“We are working towards a commencement period of early 2024. This is to provide enough time to allow justice partners to complete a number of IT change programmes and for the delivery of a robust package of training and guidance for officers prior to commencement.”
Jamie Greene, justice spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, pledged his party would replace the Act if they won power.
He said: “Despite its good intentions, the Hate Crime Act was flawed from the outset. Given the huge pressures continuing to prepare for this Act has put on our police, it is hardly surprising that it looks set to be delayed even further.
“With SNP ministers planning further cuts to frontline policing budgets, the last thing they need is the extra demands this Act will place on them. The Scottish Conservatives would protect free speech and ease the pressure on our police by replacing this Act.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill added “This is yet another shambles of the SNP’s making. Once again they have left a job half done, after failing to work with the police and lay the groundwork for these new laws.”
Assistant chief constable Gary Ritchie also confirmed Police Scotland’s concerns around commencement.
He said: “We are developing our technology and systems which, when completed, will ensure that the recording and reporting of hate crimes under the new legislation accurately reflects the terms of the Act and the reporting requirements from Scottish Government. Having a single national system in place at the time of commencement will enable consistency of practice across the country.
"There will be training requirements for our officers and the content of training packages is being developed in collaboration with Scottish Government and other justice partners who will have a similar need to train staff in the new measures.”