A MINISTER has announced when new hate crime laws will come into force in Scotland. 

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act was passed by MSPs in March 2021 but its passage was fraught with difficulties, with some MSPs expressing concern about the potential criminalisation of free expression. 

The legislation will create a new offence of stirring up hatred against protected characteristics, including age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, matching a similar offence based on race that has been on the statute book for decades.

It comes amid statistics suggesting that hate crimes aggravated by sexual orientation and disability have reached an all-time high in Scotland. 

In the final debate before its passage, First Minister Humza Yousaf – then serving as justice secretary – said no-one would be found to have stirred up hatred “for solely stating their belief – even if they did so in a robust manner”.

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Ahead of the legislation taking effect, the Scottish Government has launched a public awareness campaign aimed at highlighting the impact of hate crime.

In a statement on Monday, community safety minister Siobhian Brown revealed that the law would come into force on April 1. 

“For those impacted by hatred and prejudice, the results can be traumatic and life-changing," she said. 

“While we respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression, nobody in our society should live in fear or be made to feel like they don’t belong, and the Scottish Government is committed to building safer communities that live free from hatred and prejudice.

The National: Siobhian Brown said the new law would give more protection to those who need itSiobhian Brown said the new law would give more protection to those who need it (Image: Siobhian Brown)

“Hate crime is behaviour that is both criminal and rooted in prejudice. It can be verbal, physical, online or face to face.

“The new law will give greater protections to those who need it and helps to form the basis of understanding about the type of behaviour that is not acceptable in our society.

“We must do all we can to give victims and witnesses the confidence to report instances of hate crime, which is why we have launched a new campaign, Hate Hurts.

“The campaign is informed by lived experience and explains what a hate crime is, the impact it has on victims and how to report it.”

Chief Superintendent Faroque Hussain, the hate crime prevention lead for Police Scotland, said: “Hate crime is vile and wrong.

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“To target a person, a group or a community because of who they are, how they look or how they choose to live their lives undermines freedoms and rights we are entitled to enjoy as human beings.

“We know it can be hard for people to report a hate crime, and in some cases to even recognise or acknowledge that they have been a victim.

“We want everyone targeted by hate crime, or those who witness it, to have confidence to come forward.

“They can be assured they will be treated with dignity and respect, and that the circumstances they report will be fully investigated.”

Figures released by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service last year showed a 2% drop in hate crimes in Scotland in 2022-23.