THE Police Scotland response to recent press articles on the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act show a worrying lack of understanding of the issues in hand ("Pressure mounts to delay new hate crime law", The Herald, January 16).

Police Scotland told The Herald that its training "has been developed in close consultation with diversity staff associations". In doing so, it fails to grasp concerns about the undue influence of groups advocating for the primacy of gender identity over sex in policy and law, and what this means for freedom of expression Police Scotland further explained that "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".

This is muddled at best. Perception is only determinative in relation to recording incidents, whether or not they involve criminal offences. This is Police Scotland policy, not law. Police Scotland is still to catch up with developments in case law in England and Wales, where the threshold for recording is much higher and does not rely on the complainants' say-so. As it stands, its self-described "victim-centred" policy is vulnerable to legal challenge. For aggravated offences, it is true that the actions must amount to a crime; but not that the perception of the victim is the "defining factor" in recognising malice. For prejudice relating to sexual orientation or transgender identity the legislation states an offence is aggravated if the offender either "evinces" or is "motivated" by malice or ill-will. The offence requires "evidence" of this.

That Scotland’s national police force does not appear to understand legislation that dates back well over a decade does nothing to inspire confidence in how it will respond to complaints made under the new Act.

Dr Kath Murray, Dr Lucy Hunter Blackburn, Lisa Mackenzie (MurrayBlackburnMackenzie), Edinburgh.

• DESPITE all its other serious problems, Police Scotland has shown outstanding satirical wit and astute political tactics in its implementation of the Hate Crimes legislation. Frankie Boyle could not have done better. Clearly the strategy was to make us all laugh so much that a bad and unnecessary piece of legislation is discredited from the start. Sex shop reporting centres and absurd cartoon posters could have no other purpose.

I certainly don't blame them. An already greatly-stretched police and justice system is being asked to take on a very complex policing task that is an open invitation to complaints that may have their origins in spite, in personality problems, in genuine confusion. The police are not agony aunts.

It is not as if our legal system did not have sufficient tools. I have been charged with the very flexible Breach of the Peace at various times, ironically for peace demonstrations. Verbal comments that may lead to the risk of social disturbance or violence could already be dealt with. Verbal comments that may make people unhappy should not be a matter for police and courts.

Isobel Lindsay, Biggar.

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

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

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This is a fool's errand

WORDS are important. They carry power. And, as part of discourse - be that intellectual, demotic, theatrical or comedic - they ought to be carefully chosen of course. In an ideal world, this would imply only serenely safe, comfortable and innocuous exchanges is to be allowed in Scotland's public realm; whether on a street corner, at a football stadium, at an auditorium, gallery or music venue.

But we don't live in that ideal world. And wishing to bring one about through heavy-handed legislation in the form of the new Hate Crime Act is a fool's errand. We live in a world with rough edges, hard sentiments and challenging perspectives; creating experiences used by Scottish talent to create iconic works of literature, comedy, music and art that have helped our nation punch above its weight on the global stage. That's not to endorse hate for art's sake; it's to draw an important distinction that reported policing guidelines for the hate crime legislation would make nigh on impossible ("Police told to target comics under new hate crime law", The Herald, March 19). Said guidelines could have shut down, on the whim of a perceived aggression or slight, much famous Scottish talent.

Billy Connolly, Alex Harvey, Alex Trocchi, Irvine Welsh, James Kelman, the works of 7:84, Gregory Burke's Black Watch, to name just a few, for the list could go on and on. Arguably, none of them would be deemed "safe" for public consumption under the terms of this Act. And Scotland would be a poorer place for it. But it seems that, to some, it's a price worth paying in pursuit of a utopian vision that is long on censoriousness and short on realism.

Colin Montgomery, Edinburgh.

The right to cause offence

ONLY 10 more sleeps then it will be All Fools’ Day. What a comfort it is to go to bed knowing that very soon those of us who live in Scotland will be protected day and night by the law, when the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 comes into force.

The five nominated characteristics within the Act cover pretty well everyone alive. Who among us, for example, does not possess a “sexual orientation”? It seems inevitable, therefore, that in future someone, somewhere, somehow will say, write or think something which will offend me. Well, thank goodness, sorry, thank the SNP Government, that when it happens I’ll be able to scurry along to a friendly neighbourhood “third party reporting centre” to let them know all about my hurt feelings. I just hope they have lots and lots of paper hankies at the ready, as I feel I may not be alone.

Back in the real world, speaking and thinking freely must never yield to no-doubt well-intentioned, yet meddlesome and fatally flawed attempts to control how we behave. With the exception of Vladimir Putin, I am unable to think of anyone at present whom I definitely hate. However, I insist on the right, perhaps inadvertently, to occasionally cause offence and in an identical manner to take umbrage at what might be said about me.

Over 200 years ago Goya’s aquatint entitled The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters gave fair warning of the consequences of dropping our guard and allowing ignorance to prevail, while the late Christopher Hitchens, characteristically, cut to the chase. “Those who are determined to be ‘offended’ will discover a provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics and it is degrading to make the attempt.”

Bob Scott, Drymen.

The Herald: Could comics like Billy Connolly fall foul of the law?Could comics like Billy Connolly fall foul of the law? (Image: Newsquest)

A gentle response

YOU report opposition by the Scottish Bishops Conference to the proposed ban on prayers at abortion clinics ("New law will ban praying near Scots abortion clinics", The Herald, March 18). As a Catholic priest I might imagine their personal gut reaction: the use of megaphones and pipe bands to get people to think again.

Of course their response was quite the opposite. They appealed to society's sense of our time-honoured values rooted in our democracy: the right to uphold our religious beliefs.

In doing so, they echoed the quote from the prophet Isaiah and the silent witness of those in prayer; words believed by countless millions of Christians of many denominations forecasting the kind of Messiah we were to expect: "He does not cry out or raise His voice, His voice is not heard in the street" - Isaiah 42 verse 2.

Father Joe Mills, Glasgow.

• THE Scottish Government has excelled itself in the framing of its new bill on abortion buffer zones, which outlaws, inter alia, "silent prayer". How are those who have to enforce such a law, presumably Police Scotland, to know, if I am standing silently, whether or not I am praying, or wondering what to have for my dinner?

Professor KB Scott, Wick.

The enemy within

THAT great patriot and democrat, Michael Gove, is promoting legislation to deal with "extremism". It is not clear how extremism is to be defined but it is likely to follow the example of "terrorist": ie, those whom we do not agree with.

I would like to take advantage of his legislation and make a first denouncement for extremism. The organisation in question seeks to use its powers to deport refugees to an African country with a dire human rights record. It supports genocide and ethnic cleansing in Gaza. It has dragged Scotland out of the European Union after a xenophobic campaign and it seeks to undermine Scottish democracy. This is extremism and this organisation should be proscribed.

David Currie, Tarland.