THE proposed hate crime legislation currently being put through the Scottish Parliament has been fiercely attacked by the Scottish Police Federation.

In what is believed to be one of the strongest condemnations yet of the Hate Crime & Public Order (Scotland) Bill, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) suggests such laws could lead to police officers determining free speech and thereby devastate the legitimacy of the police service.

Their response puts the federation, which represents 98% of all police officers in Scotland, on a collision course with the Scottish Government that is determined to enact the Bill, albeit most political and legal experts say substantial changes will need to be made to the proposed legislation.

READ MORE: Evangelical ‘hate group’ criticises Scottish hate crime bill

The federation made the comments in its consultation response to the Bill. They say that elements of the legislation will see a significant increase in police workload and demand, with a corresponding demand placed upon the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and courts.

They add: “SPF does not support the intended provision to grant powers of search and entry (by force if necessary) to members of police staff.”

SPF expresses concern “that the Bill seeks to criminalise the mere likelihood of ‘stirring up hatred’ by creating an offence of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, such offence to include both speech and conduct. This complicates the law and is in our opinion, too vague to be implemented.”

The Federation say the Bill also “sits uncomfortably” with Articles 6 and 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the right to a fair trial.

Their statement this morning said: “The SPF considers that the timing of publication of the Bill and associated consultation period - in the midst of a global pandemic - is unfortunate at best.

“A very conservative estimate of the cost of a single day’s training on the new Bill for every police officer in Scotland is £3.5 - £4m.

“The financial memorandum makes no provision for the costs of investigation of complaints against police officers and staff.

“A significant increase in police officers being called to court to give evidence is inevitable and the huge financial costs of that need to be understood.”

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf hits out at Daily Mail for backing David Vance comments

Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said: “We are firmly of the view this proposed legislation would see officers policing speech and would devastate the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of the public. That can never be an acceptable outcome – and we should never forget that the police in Scotland police only with the consent of the people.

“Police officers are all too aware that there are individuals in society who believe that to feel insulted or offended is a police matter. The Bill would move even further from policing and criminalising of deeds and acts to the potential policing of what people think or feel, as well as the criminalisation of what is said in private.

“We support and adopt the comments of Fred Mackintosh QC and others in relation to the removal of available defences which exist for the current hate crime offences. If the Bill as presented is passed, those accused of the new offences of stirring up hatred will not have the opportunity to prove that they did not intend to stir up hatred or that they had no reason to suspect their conduct would do so.

“We do not for one second suggest that prejudice, racism or discrimination are desirable qualities in our society but the need to address those matters when they reach a criminal level is met by laws already in place and the cost to free speech of going further with this Bill is too high a price to pay for very little gain.”

The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.