Scotland’s new hate crime law will lead to a “great deal of police time” being wasted, the former convenor of Holyrood’s Justice Committee has warned.

Professor Adam Tomkins said officers risked being swamped having to “deal with and dismiss ill-founded complaints" which had been made by people who were "offended, upset, hurt or distressed by something someone else has said".

His comments came as the force confirmed they would “investigate every report” made when the new law takes effect on April 1, more than three years after its difficult journey through Holyrood.

Meanwhile, one SNP MP said she feared the new legislation would be “weaponised against women."

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act consolidated some existing hate crime laws and created a new offence of stirring up hatred against protected characteristics, including age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

Prof Tomkins, the John Millar Chair of Public Law at the University of Glasgow’s law school, said the threshold for criminality was reasonably high and that the words used would have to be such that a reasonable person would consider them threatening or abusive or intended to stir up hatred.

He said: “It is perfectly plain that the Hate Crime Act does not criminalise words which others find offensive unless a reasonable person would consider the words used to be threatening or abusive and unless it could be shown that the words were intended to stir up hatred.

“It is equally plain that a great deal of police time is now likely to be wasted having to deal with and dismiss ill-founded complaints made by people who are offended, upset, hurt or distressed by something someone else has said."

The Herald: Professor Adam Tomkins who is Professor of Law at Glasgow University is being interviewed on his views on the Referendum.
He is photographed here on Campus at Glasgow University.

Pictures Kirsty Anderson Herald & Times

The academic added: “It is not a crime to offend someone. If you are offended by what someone has said, this is not a crime and your solution lies not in trying to have that person silenced, but in arguing back – explaining why their views are wrong.”

Earlier this week, the Scottish Government launched a public awareness campaign highlighting the new law and to “encourage those who have witnessed or experienced a hate crime to report it.”

That has led to questions over the use of third-party reporting centres (TPRCs) which allow people to submit complaints anonymously.

Police Scotland has been using TPRCs for some time, mostly based in local authority buildings, housing associations and third sector organisations. Staff are given training to help someone submit a report or can submit a report on their behalf. 

Some of the TPRCs are based in private businesses.

A list of the centres on the force’s website, includes Monaghan Mushrooms in North Berwick, and Farne Salmon & Trout in Duns, which is one of the largest smoked salmon facilities in Europe.

It also includes West Dunbartonshire Council’s Equality and Diversity department.

However, it gives the address as the Council Offices in Garshake Road, Dumbarton. That building was demolished five years ago.

The TPRC that attracted the most attention yesterday was Luke and Jacks, a shop in Glasgow selling "pleasure products".

Tory MSP Annie Wells was critical. She said: "Serious questions must be asked as to who thought a sex shop was an appropriate setting to report a hate crime."

However, the owners hit back, telling our sister paper, The National, that they "became involved in this around ten years ago."

Ian Diamond told the paper: "At that time there were gay men’s health organisations that were open during the day, which would have been the places where it was possible to get this kind of service.

“But funding cuts mean those places really don’t exist anymore.

“There was no longer anywhere you could just walk in that was designated as a safe space for LGBT+ people during the day.

“Because we’ve been working so closely with the LGBT+ community in Glasgow for well over a decade, we felt we were a perfect fit when the police started talking about using businesses such as hairdressers as places to report hate crimes.”

“We don’t sell porn," his co-owner Drew Bigglestone said. "It’s simply products for sexual pleasure, lingerie and underwear.

“In many ways, we attempt to tailor our shop to be as approachable and non-offensive as possible.”

Calum Steele, the former general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation said he was concerned about what the centres might do for the reliability of crime data.

“With literally hundreds of third party reporting vehicles available - inevitably each one with their own interpretive vagaries - that means data confidence will be nigh on impossible to be derived,” he wrote on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

He added: “I suspect that within a very short period of time we will have ‘data’ suggesting Scotland to be one of the most ‘hateful’ counties on earth. This Jackanory data will be used to justify an endless drive to deliver a Pygmalion utopia.”

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry agreed.

She said she feared the new law would be “weaponised against women exercising their right to freedom of speech.”

“I’ve made my concerns known at the highest level,” she added.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police Scotland has used Hate Crime Third Party Reporting Centres for a number of years.

“In some cases, victims and witnesses of a hate crime may not feel comfortable approaching the police directly. Third Party Reporting Centres provide them with a safe space to make a report, and we constantly review these alongside the Scottish Government.

“Any business or organisation can volunteer to be a Third Party Reporting Centre, and they reflect the diverse nature of our local communities. Staff are trained to ensure they can assist victims or witnesses.

“Hate crime and discrimination of any kind is deplorable and entirely unacceptable and we will investigate every report.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We know the impact on those at the receiving end of physical, verbal or online attacks can be traumatic and life-changing.

"The new Hate Crime law has a high threshold for proving offences of stirring up hatred and the supporting materials explain how the thresholds of the offences are assessed. The laws are designed to tackle the harm caused by hatred and prejudice and provide greater protection for victims and communities.

“We continue to work with justice partners, including Police Scotland, to ensure effective implementation of the Act. Police Scotland have given assurances that those targeted by hate crime will be treated with dignity and respect that the circumstances they report will be fully investigated."

On the reporting centres, the spokesperson said: “As Police Scotland has said victims and witnesses of a hate crime may not feel comfortable approaching the police directly.

"That is why Third Party Reporting Centres, which have been in place for a number of years, offer a safe alternative space to make a report.

“Our Hate Crime Strategy commits to review third-party reporting arrangements in partnership with Police Scotland, which has already commenced.

"A short-life working group will re-evaluate the criteria of a third-party reporting centre, recording and maintenance of the scheme and how to improve support for centres and victims.”