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Yousaf warns against using new hate crime law to make ‘vexatious’ complaints

Scotland’s First Minister has warned against using a controversial new hate crime law to make “vexatious” complaints.

Concerns have been raised about the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which takes effect on Monday, and its potential impact on free speech.

Opponents have suggested police could be deluged with complaints against statements people find offensive and some, including senior SNP MP Joanna Cherry, have claimed that being under criminal investigation could be a punishment in itself.

The First Minister has repeatedly said that Police Scotland are able to deal with vexatious complaints, but he told the PA news agency the ramifications of making such a claim to police would be “serious”.

“People have a right to report matters to the police if they believe a crime has been committed,” he said during a visit to a soft play area in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire.

“And I would say to people the legislation makes it really clear what the potential threshold for a crime would be.”

The legislation consolidates existing hate crime legislation and creates a new offence of stirring up hatred in relation to protected characteristics, although sex has been omitted in favour of a standalone Bill designed to tackle misogyny.

In order for an offence to be committed, the First Minister said, it would have to be proven the accused had intended to stir up hatred.

“I would say to anybody who thinks they are a victim of hatred, we take that seriously, if you felt you are a victim of hatred, then of course reporting that to police is the right thing to do,” he said.

Humza Yousaf
The First Minister said he was confident in the legislation (Jane Barlow/PA)

“If you’re thinking about making a a vexatious complaint, if you’re thinking about making a complaint and there’s no merit in that, then do know that the police will take that serious in terms of tackling vexatious complaints and so I would urge you not to do it.”

Speaking to journalists later, he rejected suggestions it could go the way of other high-profile legislative U-turns under the SNP, such as the named persons scheme and the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

“It definitely won’t (be repealed),” he said.

“I’m very confident that we’ve got the balance right between extending protections to some of the most marginalised groups who absolutely need it, in a rising tide of hatred we’ve seen right across the world and in many parts of Europe, including of course Scotland and the UK.

“But we’ve also got the balance right between that and making sure that we’ve got freedom of expression protections and safeguards within the legislation.

“I’m quite confident we’ve got a really robust piece of legislation and I think there’s been a lot of disinformation and misinformation in the last few weeks about it.

“And ultimately, once the Act comes into force, I think it will do exactly what we expect it to do, which is protect the most marginalised in our community.”