Scottish ministers are coming under pressure to delay the implementation of their controversial new hate crime law.

Calls for a pause come after Holryood’s Criminal Justice committee questioned Police Scotland’s readiness for the new Act, due to come into force in less than a fortnight.

However, the Scottish Government has insisted that they are "committed" to their 1 April start date. 

READ MORE: Hate crime law will lead to 'great deal of police time being wasted'

It has been three years since the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) was passed by MSPs. It has already been delayed, at Police Scotland’s request.

The new legislation consolidates some existing laws and creates a new offence of stirring up hatred against protected characteristics, including age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity.

Police Scotland has promised that it will investigate every hate crime complaint reported, despite the force adopting a “proportionate response” approach to other crimes.

The Herald: Police officers  on the streets of Edinburgh  in July

There are a number of concerns, including training for officers, the use of "third party reporting centres" where victims or witnesses can make an allegation or have an allegation made on their behalf, and over what data is recorded and held by police when a complaint does not meet the criminal threshold.

In a letter to Jo Farrell, the Chief Constable, Audrey Nicoll, the Convenor of the Criminal Justice Committee asked for details of the work undertaken by the force to “ensure that officers and staff are aware of the provisions in the legislation and confirm they have received sufficient training ahead of the commencement of the Act on 1 April 2024, to enable them to enforce its provisions.”

It is understood that training for officers comprised a two-hour long online package.

David Threadgood, the Chair of the Scottish Police Federation, the body which represents rank-and-file officers, told The Herald it “probably wasn't sufficient to actually understand the legislation.”

His comments echo those of his colleague David Kennedy, the general secretary, who told the Scotsman: "We could end up with people being charged who should not be charged because people do not understand the law. We are asking officers to police a law that they are unprepared for. "

READ MORE: Explained in five minutes: What are Scotland's new Hate Crime Laws?

In her letter to the Chief, Ms Nicoll, an SNP MSP who is herself a former police officer, also raised concerns shared by the Murray Blackburn Mackenzie (MBM) research group about current guidance on the recording of an allegation.

They said Police Scotland’s guidelines suggest officers record a crime “based on the perception of the person reporting an incident to them” while in England and Wales, a recent court decision meant forces do not record anything that is ‘trivial, malicious or irrational’.

MBM told The Herald the new law needed to be delayed. They pointed out that the Scottish Government has yet to lay a commencement order, a legal necessity for any legislation not immediately put into effect after it has been granted royal assent.

They said: "Three years on from passing an Act that they were told was urgent, MSPs are right to be concerned about the Scottish Police Federation highlighting a continuing lack of preparedness, the absence of information about the content of training for frontline police officers, the rapid expansion of the unregulated third-party reporting scheme and the delay in updating police guidance on recording non-crime incidents to reflect recent case law.

“This is on top of broken promises made to the Parliament about engaging with those concerned about the impact of the Act on freedom of expression and a confusingly vague public information campaign.

"The decision on when to bring the Act into force now rests entirely with Ministers. MSPs should be urging the Government not to press the button on this legislation in the midst of such a guddle."

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry agreed. The MP said: “I agree with MBM that given the intervention by the Committee, the lack of preparedness highlighted by the Scottish Police Federation, and the large expansion of the unregulated third-party reporting scheme, the Scottish Government should delay commencing the Act.”

The KC and MP said she was very concerned about the “absence of tailored defences for women who hold the view that sex is immutable and who wish to speak plainly about this.”

She added: “I have little doubt that this new law will be weaponised by trans rights activists to try to silence, and worse still, criminalise women who do not share their beliefs.

“A cursory look at social media shows that some of these activists already have one high profile woman in Scotland in their sights. Experience shows that working class women will also be targeted.

“There is no right not be offended but the muddled discourse about these issues currently in the public domain does not make that clear.”

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay said: "The Scottish Conservatives have consistently opposed Humza Yousaf's dangerous hate crime law and remain resolute that it should be repealed.

"At the very least, his tin-eared SNP government must hit pause. They need to start listening to wide-ranging and credible concerns, not least those of frontline officers."

READ MORE: Police Scotland to use Glasgow sex shop as hate crime reporting centre

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Our training package has been developed in close consultation with diversity staff associations to ensure all protected characteristics under the new Act are clearly represented and articulated, and that officers are best prepared when they respond to hate crimes and incidents.

“In addition, an extensive programme of workshops is taking place to allow officers to gain more understanding and ask any questions they may have.

“For recording purposes, the perception of the victim or any other person is the defining factor in determining whether an incident is a hate incident or in recognising any malice element of a crime.

"The alleged actions of the perpetrator must amount to a crime under the rules of the Scottish Crime Recording Standards.

“Police Scotland developed national guidance to support officers in recognising, investigating and progressing reports of hate crimes and hate incidents.

"The guidance was produced on 27 April 2021 and makes clear the victim-centred approach officers must take in recording and understanding the impact the incident has had upon the victim.”

Victims and Community Safety Minister Siobhian Brown said: “We are committed to a 1 April commencement date for implementation of the Hate Crime Act, which will offer greater protection to victims and communities from this type of abuse.

“We have worked with partners, including Police Scotland, to ensure effective implementation of the legislation and the timetable for commencement has allowed for the delivery of a robust package of training and guidance for police officers.”

READ MORE: What is Police Scotland's Hate Monster campaign about?

Meanwhile, a public awareness campaign organised by police involving an orange cartoon character has been derided.

The Herald: Police Scotland has launched a 'Hate Monster' campaign to combat hate crime

The Hate Monster has been likened to "a pound shop version" of Sesame Street's Elmo by one MSP.

The marketing push includes the claim that white men from poorer backgrounds aged under 30 are most likely to perpetrate a hate crime.

Former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont criticised the advert. "Domestic abuse was in the past dismissed as a 'domestic' - explained away by a view that it was poverty that bred violence and ignoring completely that male violence is no respecter of class.

"I find the sweeping assumptions of the Hate Monster - good grief - just as dangerous.

"Who, hearing the campaign pitch, thought 'That captures the gravity and complexity of the issues involved'?

"Who knew responsibility for racism, hostility to minorities and abuse of disabled people lies with a hate monster lurking in impoverished homes?"

Ms Lamont continued: "The notion that hate is driven by economic disadvantage insults all those who support their families and communities despite poverty. And it ignores the hatred exercised by those who are financially secure."