We could have done more to inform public on Hate Crime Act, minister says

Justice secretary defends bill against 'disinformation' amid calls by the Tories to repeal the legislation.

The Scottish Government could have done more to inform the public about the Hate Crime Act, the justice secretary has said.

Angela Constance told Holyrood the messaging around the introduction of the bill could have been better.

But she defended the law against “disinformation” from opponents and said it was important to protect minorities in Scotland.

It comes as the Scottish Tories – the only party to vote against it at the time – called for the legislation to be repealed.

The party said the act is “incompetent” and described it as a “threat to free speech”.

More than 7,000 hate complaints were made to Police Scotland in the first week of the bill at the start of the month. Of these, 240 were crimes, the force said.

Figures released earlier on Tuesday showed that had fallen by 75% in its second week to 1,832. Officers said 213 of these were crimes.

The Hate Crime and Public Order Act takes existing laws around the stirring up of hatred on the basis of race and extends that to other groups, including transgender and disabled people.

Scottish Labour – which voted for the act – described it as “flawed” and “incompetent” and said the law had “unravelled” due to “poor implementation and a “disastrous failure to communicate the meaning and use of the bill to the public”.

The justice secretary defended the law itself but said much of the commentary of it had been “misleading”.

But she added that the messaging of the law to the general public fell short.

“I accept that the Scottish Government could have done more to inform people about this act as well as our wider approach to tackling hate crime and prejudice,” she said.

She said the Government has published a fact sheet on the act to better inform Scots.

The justice secretary added: “However, let’s be clear, even if the Government had produced more information bad faith factors intent on spreading disinformation would have done too regardless.”

She told MSPs that the law still allows people to be “offensive, critical and insulting”.

“The act includes rigorous safeguards on freedom of speech and that behaviour is not to be taken to be threatening or abusive just because it involves discussion or criticism of matters relating to one of the characteristics included in the legislation,” she said.

She said there had been “deliberate misinformation and misrepresentation of the act”.

“Debate around the act has provided little light and too much heat,” she added.

Scottish Tory MSP Russell Findlay called for the repeal of the Hate Crime and Public Order Act.Scottish Parliament

Scottish Tory MSP Russell Findlay said issues with the bill went beyond messaging.

Responding to the justice secretary’s statement, he said: “Police Scotland has been bombarded with almost 9,000 complaints because of Humza Yousaf’s hate crime law.

“A law that threatens free speech and a law that is critically different to competent legislation elsewhere in the UK despite the SNP’s spin.

“The vast majority of these 9,000 reports are not crimes.

“Despite the SNP’s best efforts, Scotland is not suffering from a hate epidemic, it’s suffering from bad SNP legislation.”

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