Scotland's new hate crime laws could risk damaging public trust in Police Scotland, a senior officer has warned.

Ch Supt Rob Hay, from the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), told the BBC people would feel "aggrieved" if they are the subject of an investigation resulting from a vexatious complaint.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 is due to take effect tomorrow.

The 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.

READ MORE: Hate Crime: Questions over Police Scotland's recording of hate crimes

It was thought that if the investigation did not result in charges being brought, the report would still result in a non-crime hate incident (NCHI) being recorded.

Ch Supt Hay told the Sunday Show: "We might find ourselves in the position where a member of the public feels quite aggrieved for having their details recorded and kept for behaviour that doesn’t meet that criminal threshold.

"So there are two ways potentially that we could damage trust and confidence in the police - around whether the police response meets with expectations, and whether have the police exceeded themselves in involving themselves in non-criminal matters."

He added: "There are people who have very heartfelt held beliefs and what what we're going to be asking police officers to do is to identify the tipping point between what is offensive, when offensive becomes abusive, and therefore is subject to the legislation.

"And I think if you have hopes of the police intervening at a particular level, and actually the criminal threshold isn't met, then potentially, you're going to be disappointed and lose trust in the police."

The new legislation was defended by Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants' Right

He told the BBC there were people "wildly misrepresenting what is in the hate crime legislation, what it will mean."

"And for the most part, they're trying to drag it into a kind of culture war space. Some of the people on the right in particular use phrases like free speech as though it only means the freedom to be abusive and vile and unpleasant and prejudiced," he added. 

Asked if he was worried it would be used to police Twitter or stand-up comedians, while he said that "no individual people are exempted from" the legislation, he pointed to comments from Police Scotland which proved this was a "complete nonsense." 

He added: "The law is essentially most of it bringing up to the common standard, hate crime legislation that was much of it already in place, but in disparate places in different bits of legislation, it's consolidating that altogether, so it will be simpler. 

"And it's also ensuring that the stirring up hatred offences which have been part of the criminal law for decades now, in relation to stirring up racial hatred, for example, that that applies to every other group."

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Mr Harvie added: "And I have to say some of the people who have been quite deliberately misrepresenting what's in this legislation are doing a huge disservice to Scotland by confusing people about what's in it, they're pushing false misinformation. 

"But I think they're also doing that without any regard for the genuine threat that is created. Just in the last week or two, in response to some of the media reporting and absurd spurious comments from Conservatives, I've had direct threats of violence as a result of people reading that kind of inflammatory misinformation in the media. 

"So people do need to take a step back, take a breath, recognise what's important about protecting our society from the stirring up of hatred and from the genuine threat to people's safety that that, results in and take a bit of responsibility in the way that they debate this and I direct that more directly at the Conservative Party."

 Joanna Cherry took to X, the site formerly known as Twitter to criticise Mr Harvie for downplaying some of the fears around the legislation, particularly for women,

"It’s time politicians & commentators stopped ducking these issues & insulting feminist activists who have been campaigning for women’s rights for years. They should address our concerns properly rather than smearing us as 'right-wing'. It’s cheap & lazy."

Meanwhile, a free speech campaign group has said they have lawyers on standby to help anyone caught up by the new legislation. 

Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Toby Young, the founder and director of the Free Speech Union (FSU), said, he and his group "have been preparing for this moment for some time."

He added: "When the Act received royal assent three years ago, we set up an office in Edinburgh, appointed a local man to be its director and created a Scottish advisory council consisting of prominent public figures committed to freedom of expression.”

He added: “We anticipate that tens of thousands of hate crimes will be reported in the next months, particularly as Police Scotland have said that, under the new law, ‘threatening or abusive material’ communicated via social media posts and ‘through public performance of a play’, which includes stand-up comedy, could be a ‘hate crime’."

READ MORE: Tory MSP threatens Police Scotland with legal action

Mr Young said that while he did not expect the vast majority of these complaints to reach court, the Free Speech Union had "put an arrangement in place with one of Scotland’s top legal firms so we can have a solicitor on hand if any of our members are hauled in for questioning.”

The group are supporting Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative MSP, who had one of his tweets logged as a “hate incident” by Police Scotland even though no law had been broken.

He told The Herald: “Patrick Harvie might feel differently if he had been wrongfully reported and investigated for criticising government policy on social media – something which he likes to do often – like I was.

“The Hate Crime Act is a blatant attack on free speech and will allow our thoughts and opinions to be policed and monitored online, at our workplaces and even in the comfort of our own homes. This is not spreading misinformation – these are facts.

“When the legislation comes into force tomorrow, I wonder how Patrick Harvie and his colleagues will feel when their offensive and derogatory remarks about Conservatives are now classed as hate incidents.”