New hate crime bill to cost more than £1m to implement

A controversial Act of the Scottish Parliament, which expanded hate crime legislation, will cost more than £1m to implement, according to newly released documents.

The Hate Crime Bill was piloted through Holyrood by former justice secretary Humza Yousaf.
The Hate Crime Bill was piloted through Holyrood by former justice secretary Humza Yousaf.

Estimates in an internal Draft Implementation Overview show the law, passed in the last sitting of the Scottish Parliament, will have recurring annual costs of £527,600, plus a one off implementation price tag of £100,000 and recorded data provision costs of £488,000.

Critics of the Hate Crime Act believe the overall costs will be far higher as provisions for recording conviction data are unknown, while estimated costs for “campaign marketing” and the overall total cost figures were redacted by the Scottish Government in an answer to a Freedom of Information request.

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The document also reveals that Police Scotland expects to come under close scrutiny given the controversial nature of the legislation, which was piloted through Holyrood by former justice secretary Humza Yousaf.

It states: “The high-profile nature of the Act, and the backlash to certain provisions during Bill scrutiny (i.e. the new stirring up hatred offences) means that implementation work is likely to be closely scrutinised by stakeholders and the media.

"We will likely receive lots of correspondence and FOIs on the topic of Bill implementation.”

It adds: “The previous Cabinet Secretary for Justice agreed, during Parliamentary passage of the Bill, that the Explanatory Notes (published to sit alongside the Act) would be used to provide further information on the new stirring up hatred offences (i.e. examples of what would constitute an offence of stirring up hatred under the Act).”

Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Free to Disagree campaign, which spearheaded opposition to the new ‘stirring up hatred’ offences in the legislation said: “Guidance is incredibly important. It will include ‘examples of what would constitute an offence of stirring up hatred’. Crucially, it must also include that which will not constitute an offence.

"I hope the Scottish Government will be working with the widest possible range of stakeholders on this. Free to Disagree and other groups that lobbied extensively on the Hate Crime Bill have yet to receive an invitation to provide input.”

On the costs to Police Scotland he added: “It’s quite something that costs for this new, controversial legislation are already over a million pounds for Police Scotland alone. There will, of course, be other costs for the government, the courts, and other organisations.

“This legislation was always going to be costly. It will see ambiguous new stirring up hatred provisions inserted into Scotland’s febrile political climate. The police will receive numerous reports of ‘hate crime’, including vexatious reports. Training and monitoring will have to be extensive.”

He added: “Of course, the other ‘costs’ we need to consider with this legislation are not monetary. They concern the potential chilling effect on public debate that could come with the new ‘stirring up’ offences. This is the impact we are most concerned about, and which we will be monitoring as the new law takes effect.

He said it was “disappointing” that awareness-raising cost estimates had been redacted as had the overall estimated costs. “Scottish taxpayers are footing the bill for this legislation. They have the right to know,” he said.

The costs were described as “astonishing” by Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Jamie Greene, who described the Hate Crime Act as “the most controversial piece of legislation ever passed in the Scottish Parliament.”

He added: “The Scottish Conservatives repeatedly warned that the SNP had not costed this Bill properly, but those concerns were dismissed as scaremongering.

“Not only does the Bill itself fail to give protection against potential prosecution for what people say in the privacy of their own homes, the astonishing costs of implementing it have now been laid bare.

“Taxpayers are now footing the bill for the SNP’s ill-thought out law. The police federation warned from the very start it would cost way more than the SNP claimed, and there are still more costs that have yet to be disclosed.

“The Scottish Conservatives will continue to push for the Hate Crime Act to be repealed. It has no place in our justice system, there are better ways to deal with the issues therein.”

However Scottish Greens justice spokesperson Maggie Chapman, who supported the Bill, said Mr Gillies was “resurrecting old arguments”.

She said: “Hate crimes have increased in Scotland against vulnerable and marginalised people, so increasing resources for tackling it should not be spun as a bad thing.

"If we, as a society, want to challenge behaviour that causes the spread of hatred, discrimination and bigotry, then we should resource those responsible for doing this.

"The passing of this Bill required cross party support for the right balance between the freedom of expression and the right to private life, as well as the clear need to update the law.

"Countless organisations agreed that the right balance had been struck, even if Mr Gillies wants to resurrect his tired old arguments that failed to prevent it being passed.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the figures in the FOI relate to “estimated costs for a range of justice partners and not just Police Scotland.”

He added: “They were published and made public during the passage of the Hate Crime Bill in the Scottish Parliament.

“The Scottish Parliament scrutinised these costs in full and MSPs subsequently voted overwhelmingly to pass the legislation, which is being introduced in the most cost-effective way possible.

“Hate crime has a hugely damaging effect on victims, their families and communities and implementation of the Hate Crime Act provides an opportunity for the Scottish Government, justice partners and stakeholders to strengthen approaches to tackling hate crime.

“As this FOI shows, discussions are ongoing on a range of issues, including what awareness raising work may be required, to ensure effective implementation of the Act so that, once in force, Scotland’s hate crime laws are made fit for the 21st century and are able to provide robust protections to victims of hate crime.”

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