Thousands of officers have still not received training for Scotland’s new hate crime laws, despite the new legislation coming into effect today.

In recent correspondence with Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee, Police Scotland told MSPs that “over 10,000 officers have undergone a module training package to aid their understanding and application.”

However, with more than 16,000 officers in the force that means around 6,000 have not. 

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David Kennedy, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation said there would not have been enough time for officers to be given that training as the two-hour online module has only been available since February. 

He told The Herald: “Our biggest issue was the training. We're not satisfied that the training is in place for officers. Training is the first thing that they always keep cutting back on. 

“And we just had a three-month period there where only essential training was taking place. 

“We know that so much of the police service is not working properly because officers aren't trained properly, and there are legal issues because of training as well, for officers with driving, road traffic officers, [armed response vehicle] officers, and we just got a real concern about the training that's been put in place for hate crime.”

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 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.

It does not include sex. A separate misogyny law was promised by Humza Yousaf in his first programme for government, though it is yet to be published.

Police Scotland has repeatedly promised that it will investigate every complaint received.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland on Sunday, a senior officer warned there could be a “huge uplift” in reports when the legislation kicks in today. 

Chief Superintendent Rob Hay, from the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), said that while some of these would potentially be made in good faith, others would try to “use the legislation to score points against people who sit on the other side of a particularly controversial debate.”

The Herald:

Last month, Joanna Cherry KC MP wrote in our sister paper, The National, that the “process will be the punishment” and that being under police investigation will be “stressful, costly, damaging to reputations and could lead to problems in the workplace.”

However, Humza Yousaf said he had faith that officers would be able to “weed out vexatious complaints”

But Mr Kennedy said it would not be as simple as that, given that the force has promised to investigate every complaint. 

“If that's what the police officers that attend are told to do, then they'll have to do that,” he said.

“They'll have to do an investigation, part of of that would be taking statements to understand what's happened and what it is.” 

“I would think for a lot of cases, they will go, they'll have to just take the statements and then go back to the office with whatever investigations they've done and then potentially put it to the Crown or put it to Police Scotland to say what else do you want me to do with this?” 

Mr Kennedy said he was anxious officers could be complained about if an investigation does not result in a charge. 

“Because the other side of the coin is that for a police officer, people are not short at coming forward to make a complaint about an individual. 

“Officers don't want to get complained about, the stress that puts them under for the job, for their home life, for their family. They don't want to do that.

“So I think initially what will happen is they will take statements. They will be looking into what's being complained about and it'll dependent on what it is.”

Dr Kath Murray from the Murray Blackburn Mackenzie (MBM) policy collective told The Herald there were still many questions over how the Act will be policed. 

“Police Scotland has failed to share training materials or operational guidance with Parliament ahead of the new Act, delaying its limited response to MSPs until hours before the Easter recess. 

“It has appointed 500 hate crime champions and separately, hate crime advisors, that include [equality, diversity and inclusion] staff. We know nothing about how they were selected, or the training and guidance provided to them, either. 

“We do know, however, that police officers devised a case study for young people that implied it was a short step from believing people can't change sex to Nazism, that ‘diversity’ staff networks helped devise its general training, and the LGBT network tells police officers to ‘evangelise their allyship’. 

“The First Minister has said vexatious complaints will not be investigated, but Police Scotland policy on initial investigation and recording is perception-based and doesn’t allow for that."

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Meanwhile, Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants' Rights said there had been a lot of “inflammatory misinformation” about the legislation, and that, as a result, he had experienced “direct threats of violence.”

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," he added. 

"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."

The Herald:

Mr Harvie added: "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 they debate this and I direct that more directly at the Conservative Party."

Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative MSP, who last year had one of his tweets logged as a “hate incident” by Police Scotland even though no law had been broken, criticised the minister.

He said: “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.”

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Minister for Victims and Community Safety Siobhian Brown said protections for freedom of expression were “built into the legislation passed by Parliament and these new offences have a higher threshold for criminality than the long-standing offence of stirring up racial hatred, which has been in place since 1986.”

Responding to Dr Murray’s comment on Hate Crime Champions, a Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Hate Crime Champions has been a recognised role in Police Scotland for over six years.

"These trained staff provide advice, support and assistance to colleagues in identifying and tackling the issues surrounding hate crime.

"Officers can nominate themselves or are nominated by their department or division to take part in the training and continue to be deployed in their existing roles.”

On the recording of complaints, they said: "Recording is victim-focused and the process has been part of policing for many years.

"It helps us monitor tensions within communities enabling appropriate police responses and helps to build community confidence.

"These events can have a significant impact on people, particularly those who may already be vulnerable.”