SCOTLAND having its own written constitution would have helped to overcome fears around the introduction of the new Hate Crime Act, an expert has claimed.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into effect on April 1 making it an offence to stir up hatred against protected characteristics such as age, disability, and gender identity.

But the legislation has proved controversial as many have claimed it could have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

Dr Elliot Bulmer has now insisted if Scotland had its own constitution with freedom of speech protected in it, it would have taken the sting out of “slippery slope” arguments about the scope of the legislation and how it will be applied.

The constitutional expert has also argued a constitution would resolve an issue of “institutional trust” that has been laid bare since the introduction of the act, with people spouting suspicions about “politicised or partisan policing”.

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Several countries across the world – including Ireland – have freedom of speech or expression enshrined in their constitutions as well as having hate speech laws.

Bulmer told The National: “Having a constitutional protection of free speech would certainly help to overcome some fears. It takes away some of the 'thin end of the wedge' and 'slippery slope' arguments, because the constitution provides an enforceable stopping point.”

Bulmer has stressed though that the legislation does recognise freedom of speech and the threshold for conviction is high.

He argued the real problem people have had is one of “institutional trust”, with people fearing the “stigma and economic consequences of having a non-crime hate incident recorded against them”.

He said a constitution would enable people to hold the powerful to account and “build trust”.

Bulmer went on: “This isn't primarily a freedom of speech issue. It's an institutional trust issue.

“A constitution is not just a set of rights, important though rights are. It is a system of government, a web of checks and balances, and mechanisms of accountability and transparency, which enable people to hold the powerful to account. That builds trust.

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“In particular, a good constitution could help to eliminate the suspicion of politicised or partisan policing. It would help reassure people that the institutions, including the Government and the police, are on the side of the general public, not on the side of a particular ideological agenda.”

The Constitution of Ireland guarantees Irish citizens the right “to express freely their convictions and opinions”.

Meanwhile, the country’s Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 makes it an offence to make, distribute, or broadcast "threatening, abusive or insulting" words, images, or sounds with intent or likelihood to "stir up hatred", where "hatred" is "against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation".

Bulmer’s comments come after Professor James Chalmers, regius professor of law at Glasgow University, claimed the legislation had been poorly communicated by Police Scotland, saying the force had failed to emphasise free speech protections.

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