New laws to tackle the harm caused by hatred and prejudice have come into force in Scotland.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act was passed by MSPs in 2021, consolidating existing hate crime legislation and creating a new offence of stirring up hatred against protected characteristics, although sex has been omitted in favour of a standalone Bill designed to tackle misogyny.

A stirring up offence on the basis of race has been on the statute book in Scotland since 1986.

But the legislation has raised concerns about a potential chilling of free speech.

The Act has also raised the ire of policing bodies, with the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) claiming training for officers is not enough and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) raising concerns about the legislation being weaponised for political purposes.

ASPS warned vexatious complaints could be made against people based on their views by political opponents.

What has changed?  

The new law creates "stirring up of hatred offences” and gives greater protection to certain groups.

These include age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity. 

The extra provisions add to the long-standing stirring up racial hatred offences, which have been in place since 1986. 

The Herald: The laws were introduced by then-Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf in 2021The laws were introduced by then-Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf in 2021 (Image: PA)

So, what is a hate crime?  

Police Scotland says that hate crimes “behaviour which is both criminal and rooted in prejudice”.  

Under their guidance, this includes; threatening behaviour, verbal abuse or insults including name-calling, assaults, robbery and damage to property – like graffiti daubed on walls.  

The new laws also cover those who encourage others to commit hate crimes, harassment online abuse on sites like Facebook or Twitter (now known as X).  

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Why now?  

The new laws were on the books for three years, but were delayed to give police tie to prepare.  

The Bill was heavily criticised throughout the process, with ministers repeatedly forced to climb down on certain provisions, such as the potential impact on performers.  

The new hate crime law came into effect on Monday.

The Herald: Police are ready to enforce the new laws Police are ready to enforce the new laws (Image: PA)

How can I find out more? 

The Scottish Government has launched an information campaign, with adverts running online and on TV.  

They show people subjected to hate crime, including online through social media. The ads are accompanied with the slogan: Hate Hurts.  

Is hate crime a big problem in Scotland?  

Recent statistics show that 5,738 charges of hate crime were reported in Scotland in 2022-23. 

Minister for Victims & Community Safety Siobhian Brown said: “For those impacted by hatred and prejudice, the results can be traumatic and life changing. While we respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression, nobody in our society should live in fear or be made to feel like they don’t belong, and the Scottish Government is committed to building safer communities that live free from hatred and prejudice. 

“We must do all we can to give victims and witnesses the confidence to report instances of hate crime, which is why we have launched a new campaign, ‘Hate Hurts’. The campaign is informed by lived experience, and explains what a hate crime is, the impact it has on victims and how to report it.” 

What have Police Scotland said? 

Chief Superintendent Faroque Hussain, hate crime prevention lead, Police Scotland, said: “Hate crime is vile and wrong. To target a person, a group or a community because of who they are, how they look, or how they choose to live their lives, undermines freedoms and rights we are entitled to enjoy as human beings. 

“We know it can be hard for people to report a hate crime, and in some cases to even recognise or acknowledge that they have been a victim. 

"We want everyone targeted by hate crime, or those who witness it, to have confidence to come forward. They can be assured they will be treated with dignity and respect and that the circumstances they report will be fully investigated.”