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Controversial Scottish hate crime legislation delayed

Freedom of Speech
25 October 2021

Implementation of the Scottish Government's Hate Crime Act has been delayed, the Sunday Times has revealed, signalling continued problems with the controversial law.

The Hate Crime and Public Order Act received Royal Assent earlier this year after being approved by a majority of MSPs. However, the usual guidance and legal documents necessary for enforcement are yet to appear.

On Friday last week, the Scottish Government confirmed that a commencement order - the statutory instrument required to bring a new law into force - had not been laid by ministers.

Opposition politicians said the delay suggested that the law, as passed, was deeply flawed.

Russell Findlay, the Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, described the proposed law as “dangerous” and called for it to be scrapped.

Whilst Labour spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said the delay was an example of the Scottish Government "thinking ahead to the next headline, and not to the substance beyond it".

During scrutiny of the proposals, which create new offences on the 'stirring up of hatred', critics warned that the legislation is open to abuse, and could seriously undermine freedom of expression.

Calum Steele of the Scottish Police Federation warned that safeguards within the law to mitigate the risk of prosecution in many cases would not resolve the requirement for police investigation of allegations that failed to meet the criminal threshold.

At the weekend, campaign group Free to Disagree cautioned that the legislation was "rushed" and said the delay demonstrated real problems with enforcement.

A spokesman said: "Changes were made [to the bill] but problems persist, especially the capacity for malicious reporting. This delay appears to confirm what we at Free to Disagree warned - enforcement is a nightmare."

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