JUSTICE Secretary Angela Constance has slammed MSPs who have spread "deliberate misinformation" about the Hate Crime Act.

In an emergency statement at Holyrood, Constance said she felt compelled to remind MSPs of the purpose of the law as she said some politicians had "lost sight and empathy" towards the people it is designed to protect by misrepresenting its intentions.

She claimed there had been "too much heat" in the debate since the legislation was introduced, as she insisted that people can "still be offensive and insulting" under the act.

She told the chamber: "Those of us with a platform as a politician or public figure have a responsibility to have debate that is rooted in reality, respect and facts.

"Over the past month, there has unfortunately been deliberate misinformation and misrepresentation of the act, losing sight and empathy towards people in our communities it seeks to protect.

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"Debate around the act has provided little light and too much heat. There is nothing in the act that is divisive, it should not be anyone’s intention to make it so."

Constance insisted the act includes safeguards on freedom of speech and explained not all material that is offensive can be considered criminal.

She went on: "People can still be offensive, critical and insulting under this act. We have seen people be exactly that.

"The act includes rigorous safeguards on freedom of speech and that behaviour or material is not to be taken as threatening or abusive just because it involves discussion or criticism of matters relating to one of the characteristics included in legislation.

"While we do not claim that legislation in and of itself can eradicate hatred, critics shouldn’t trivialise or exaggerate its impact with false fears."

Constance has, however, conceded the Scottish Government could have done more to inform people about the act.

She added: “I accept that the Scottish Government could have done more to inform people about this act as well as our wider approach to tackling hate crime and prejudice.

“We have, therefore, today published a factsheet, to go with the already published general information note on the act.

"However, let’s be clear, even if the Government had produced more information, bad faith actors who are intent on spreading disinformation would have done so regardless."

Police announced on Tuesday they had seen a “significant reduction” in the number of reports being made under the law, with a drop of almost 75% from the first week that the legislation was in place.

Data from Police Scotland showed the force received 1832 online hate reports between April 8 and April 14 – with this down from 7152 the previous week.

The force said the “vast majority” of complaints received during this second week were anonymous, with most resulting in no further action being taken when assessed against the legislation.

However, there were 213 hate crimes recorded, with this down from 240 in the first week the legislation was in force.

The legislation introduces new offences of stirring up hatred against people based on their religion, transgender identity, and age. 

Experts say the threshold for prosecution is high – something Constance reiterated at Holyrood – and that it is unlikely many people will be prosecuted under the legislation.