Yousaf accused of ‘ignoring’ warnings over hate crime law

There are concerns the new law could be “weaponised”

Yousaf accused of ‘ignoring’ warnings over hate crime law PA Media

Scotland’s First Minister has been accused of “ignoring” warnings over the impact of a new hate crime law.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act will come into force on April 1, consolidating existing legislation and creating an offence of stirring up hatred against protected groups – a law on the statute book for race since 1986 in Scotland.

But the legislation has come under fire from opponents who claim it could lead to a chilling of free speech and be open to vexatious complaints.

In a letter to the Criminal Justice Committee at Holyrood published this week, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) warned the law could be “weaponised” by an “activist fringe” across the political spectrum.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross raised the letter with Humza Yousaf during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

Mr Yousaf said: “Of course we take seriously what was said by the Scottish Police Federation, ASPS or any other representative organisation representing police officers.

“But I think it is incumbent on me to say that the new offences in relation to stirring up are hugely important.

“Those stirring up offences for racial hatred have existed since 1986, we are simply extending those protections to other groups.”

Responding, Mr Ross said: “The problem is, First Minister, people will not be protected if the police cannot do their job.

“We have warnings week after week from officers on the front line, from the Police Federation and now from the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents.

“They are giving as stark a warning as possible to this SNP Government that the Bill is flawed, it’s not going to do what MSPs supporting it wanted it to do, and those warnings are being ignored by Humza Yousaf.”

Mr Ross went on to quote the views of those – including senior SNP MP Joanna Cherry KC – who believe the criminal investigation into complaints may be a punishment in itself for those targeted by police.

The First Minister, however, said he has “absolute faith” in Police Scotland’s ability to weed out vexatious complaints.

Mr Ross also raised the case of his MSP Murdo Fraser, who said this week he was the subject of a hate crime complaint to police for a social media post last year, which was subsequently recorded as a non-crime hate incident.

Such recordings are made when a report does not meet the required criminal threshold.

Mr Fraser has complained to Police Scotland and not ruled out taking legal action to have the record deleted.

Speaking on Thursday, the First Minister stressed such incidents have been recorded for “many years” and were a recommendation of the Macpherson Inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1999.

He said other non-crime incidents are logged for offences including domestic violence.

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