A TOP law professor has blamed the police for misinformation about controversial new hate crime laws – saying the force has failed to emphasise free speech protections.

Professor James Chalmers, regius professor of law at Glasgow University, was part of the review which spawned the Hate Crime Act – but said the legislation had been poorly communicated by Police Scotland.

He said: “The public controversy around this is such that that emphasis at the same time on the importance of freedom of speech would’ve been useful.”

The Act contains “multiple” protections for freedom of speech, he said, but these have not been “emphasised” enough by the force in its publicity campaign leading up to it coming into force at the beginning of the month.

This featured the "Hate Monster" campaign, which featured an angry red monster which represented committing hate crimes.

Professor Chalmers (below) told the Sunday National: “I think possibly it would have been helpful if some of the communications from Police Scotland around it had been slightly different.

The National: James Chalmers, Professor of Law at Glasgow University Law School

“There has been a long period of implementation, there has been some publicity from Police Scotland around it.

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“Understandably, that communication has focused on encouraging people to report potential hate crimes and hate incidents.

“But it would have been helpful to have some emphasis in those communications about the freedom of speech at the same time.”

This, he claimed, has led to people who have heard about the new laws fearing their rights to freedom of speech will not be protected in allegations of hate crimes.

Professor Chalmers said: “There are multiple protections of free speech in the legislation, but those aren’t really being publicly communicated and therefore I think people are worried - even where they’re aware of the legislation - that those are not going to be given the kind of weight by the police in the investigations that they ought to be.”

The Glasgow University academic served on the Bracadale Review which helped form the Hate Crime Act.

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He said that Police Scotland had been made to strike a delicate balance with the new laws because they were also intended to give people the confidence to come forward about hate crimes and have their complaints investigated.

“It’s a hard balance because what they want to do – and the whole push on hate crime over decades now – has been to get people to come forward,” he said.

Police were now in the position of saying to the public “if you’re not sure if this is a hate crime or not, let us know”, he added.

Police Scotland declined to comment.