Scotland’s new hate crime law will cause ‘havoc’, police body warns

Scotland’s new hate crime law will cause “havoc” for police officers north of the border, the head of a leading police body has said.

The Scottish Government’s controversial new hate crime law came into effect on Monday, despite warnings that officers have not had enough training to decide which kind of comments merit an investigation.

The law creates a new stirring up of hatred offence for protected characteristics – including sexual orientation, transgender identity, religion, disability and age.

Critics of the move – including JK Rowling and Elon Musk – have argued that it will see a spike in vexatious complaints and have a chilling effect on free speech.

The SNP community safety minister Siobhian Brown conceded on Monday that people “could be investigated” for misgendering trans people online.

David Kennedy, the General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said trying to enforce the new law risked angering both sides in controversial online debates.

“That will cause havoc with trust in police in Scotland, it certainly will reduce that,” Mr Kennedy told Radio 4’s Today programme.

The head of the body representing rank and file officers said it would likely require the appeal courts to sort out the “real elements of the act and how they should be interpreted in law will come into fruition”.

Mr Kennedy added: “Our biggest complaint right from the beginning of this is there’s been no extra money given to the police service to provide the extra training … Two hours of online training is all we’ve had.”

Police Scotland recently told a committee of MSPs that “over 10,000 officers” have undergone training to enforce the new law, which means around 6,000 officers have not.

The force denied that officers had been told to “target ”comedians and actors, after it emerged last month that the training material said stirring up hatred could be carried out through “public performance of a play”.

Chief Superintendent Rob Hay, from the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), said there could be a “huge uplift” in complaints that would put officers in a “really difficult position”.

The senior officer told the BBC on Sunday he was worried that some people would “actively use the legislation to score points against people who sit on the other side of a particularly controversial debate”.

He said members of the public may feel “aggrieved” if their details are kept by police who have received a report of a hate crime, even if they do not pursue a prosecution.

Ms Rowling has joined podcaster Joe Rogan and X owner Elon Musk in criticising Scotland’s new law, which was passed at Holyrood in March 2021 but delayed until this month.

The Harry Potter series author has vowed to continue “calling a man a man” even after the “ludicrous law” comes into force on 1 April.

Asked about the criticism of Ms Rowling by trans rights campaigners – and whether misgendering someone on the internet would be considered a crime – the SNP’s community safety minister told the Today programme: “It would be a police matter for them to assess what happens.”

“It could be reported and it could be investigated. Whether or not the police would think it was criminal is up to Police Scotland,” Ms Brown said.

Some campaigners are also concerned that protection for women has been omitted from the new law. The SNP-led Scottish Government has vowed to introduce a standalone bill specifically designed to tackle misogyny.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has said the omission of women from hate crime law was an “astonishing exclusion”.

“There is no protection against misogyny and that is an astonishing exclusion because women are victims of incredible levels of hate and harassment,” Mr Tatchell told Today.

SNP leader Humza Yousaf has defended the new law as “hugely important” in addressing hate crime. Scotland’s First Minister said last week that police officers would be able to “weed out vexatious complaints”.

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