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Hate Crime Act: Ministers and Tories accuse one another of misinformation

Hate Crime Act: Ministers and Tories accuse one another of misinformation

The Scottish Government and Scottish Conservatives have accused one another of misinformation following the implementation of the Hate Crime Act.

Justice secretary Angela Constance accepted the government could have done more to inform people about the new law, but insisted “bad faith actors” opposed to the legislation would have spread incorrect information regardless.

She accused opposition MSPs of “causing confusion” by sharing misinformation, labelling this “deeply irresponsible” as it risked “emboldening” people who did pose a genuine threat.

But Tory justice spokesman Russell Findlay accused the Scottish Government, including First Minister Humza Yousaf and junior justice minister Siobhian Brown, of misinformation about the law.

He added Police Scotland had been “bombarded” with reports because of this, with the vast majority turning out not to be crimes.

The Hate Crime Act came into force on 1 April, both bringing together existing hate crime laws and extending protections to a wider range of protected characteristics.

It also created new offences on the stirring up of hatred.

In the first week of the new law, 7,152 online reports were made to the police. The number of hate crimes recorded in that time was 240.

The number of online reports fell by 74.4 per cent in the second week of April, to 1,832. The number of recorded hate crimes was 205.

Constance said the increase in reports was “expected” given the new law, but she said the impact on frontline policing had been “minimal”.

She said the debate around the act had created “little light and too much heat”, pointing to “deliberate misinformation and misrepresentation”.

She added: “I accept that the Scottish Government could have done more to inform people about this act as well as the wider approach to tackle hate crime and prejudice… However, let’s be clear, even if the government had produced more information, bad faith actors who are intent on spreading disinformation would have done so regardless.”

Findlay, whose party is bringing a debate tomorrow calling for the act to be scrapped, urged the Scottish Government to “admit they got it wrong”.

He said: “Despite the SNP's best efforts, Scotland is not suffering from a hate epidemic – it’s suffering from bad SNP legislation.

“The cabinet secretary talks about misinformation – what an absolute brass neck. The misinformation has come from her government, including Humza Yousaf and the community safety minister. They misquote their own legislation, confusing the public and fueling even more complaints to the police.”

Labour’s Katy Clark said the implementation of the act had been a “shambles” due to “poor communication”.

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