What is the Scottish hate crime law and why is JK Rowling talking about it?

Police Scotland has said the Harry Potter author will not be investigated over a series of provocative social media posts criticising the new law.

JK Rowling will face no further action after daring Scottish police to arrest her for a series of social media posts over controversial new hate crime laws.

The Hate Crime Act was introduced on Monday by the Scottish Government to consolidate hate crime powers, and to extend protections against stirring up hatred – which were already in place in terms of racial hatred – to include other protected characteristics, including transgender identity.

On Monday, Rowling posted a series of tweets in which she claimed the legislation was "wide open to abuse," and said: "Freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal."

Rowling, 58, mentioned some trans criminals - including double rapist Isla Bryson - in her tweets, referring to them as women. She added: "I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment."

On Tuesday, Police Scotland told Yahoo News UK it had "received complaints in relation to the social media post". However, it added: "The comments are not assessed to be criminal and no further action will be taken."

Rowling tweeted in response: "I hope every woman in Scotland who wishes to speak up for the reality and importance of biological sex will be reassured by this announcement, and I trust that all women - irrespective of profile or financial means - will be treated equally under the law."

Yahoo News has asked Police Scotland how many complaints it received.

What is the new Scottish hate crime law?

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act creates a new offence of inciting hatred based on protected characteristics, similar to an existing offence regarding race. The new protected characteristics include age, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity, or variations in sex characteristics, which can be known as intersex.

Scotland's first minister Humza Yousaf said: “If I have the protection against somebody stirring up hatred because of my race – and that has been the case since 1986 – why on earth should these protections not exist for someone because of their sexuality, or disability, or their religion?”

He told the Scottish Parliament he is “very proud” of the new laws, saying they will help protect against a “rising tide” of hatred. He said that a “triple lock” in the statute sets the bar for criminality “incredibly high” is included to protect free speech.

Rishi Sunak has said people should not be criminalised 'for stating simple facts on biology', as he backed JK Rowling for criticising new Scottish hate crime laws. (PA)
Rishi Sunak has said people should not be criminalised 'for stating simple facts on biology', as he backed JK Rowling for criticising new Scottish hate crime laws. (PA)

Why are critics of the law angry?

The SNP has faced a torrent of criticism about the law, including from within its own party. SNP MP Joanna Cherry said that “if you are a woman, you have every right to be concerned".

“Biological sex is not included as a protected characteristic in the act, despite women being one of the most abused cohorts in our society,” she wrote in The National newspaper.

Veteran human rights activist Peter Tatchell said the law was well-intended but vague, relying on “subjective interpretation” of what constitutes abuse and allowing people to report alleged offences anonymously.

Tatchell also claimed the new legislation could “open the door to vexatious and malicious complainants who will go after people” – an issue the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) has also warned of.

David Kennedy, general secretary of the police federation in Scotland, said officers had not had adequate training needed to introduce the legislation. He told BBC Scotland that while some officers may feel prepared, "we've raised concerns because it's only been a two-hour online package that officers have been given".

He added: "The role of the police is we have to apply the law, and it's going to be an extremely difficult time. I think it's going to be confusing and fraught with difficulty."

Scotland has around 16,360 full-time officers with Kennedy claiming 6,000 still needed to do the training.

What did JK Rowling say?

In a string of posts on X, formerly Twitter, the bestselling author listed ten high-profile trans people and denied their claims to be women. Those targeted included double rapist Isla Bryson, 31, who was initially jailed for eight years at a women’s prison before later being moved to a male prison following a widespread backlash.

Bryson, who was known as Adam Graham at the time of the offences, began transitioning in 2020 after being charged.

Rowling wrote: "In passing the Scottish Hate Crime Act, Scottish lawmakers seem to have placed higher value on the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness, however misogynistically or opportunistically, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls.

She added: "For several years now, Scottish women have been pressured by their government and members of the police force to deny the evidence of their eyes and ears, repudiate biological facts and embrace a neo-religious concept of gender that is unprovable and untestable.

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"The re-definition of 'woman' to include every man who declares himself one has already had serious consequences for women’s and girls’ rights and safety in Scotland, with the strongest impact felt, as ever, by the most vulnerable, including female prisoners and rape survivors.

"It is impossible to accurately describe or tackle the reality of violence and sexual violence committed against women and girls, or address the current assault on women’s and girls’ rights, unless we are allowed to call a man a man."

What has the reaction to Rowling's comments been?

In a statement given to The Daily Telegraph, Rishi Sunak said the Tory party will “always protect” free speech.

“People should not be criminalised for stating simple facts on biology,” he said. “We believe in free speech in this country, and Conservatives will always protect it.”

Owner of X and former richest man in the world Elon Musk responded to a post which said: “Police officers in Scotland are being given training to target social media posts, including re-tweets, of material deemed ‘threatening and abusive’. Under the county’s new hate crime law, actors and comedians are not given a free pass to make jokes about sensitive subjects that offend people, either.”

Could JK Rowling be charged under the new laws?

JK Rowling has been outspoken on her views about transgender people for years and has often refused to call people by their preferred pronouns.

When asked if misgendering someone was now a hate crime the SNP's community safety minister, Siobhian Brown, told Radio 4's Today programme: "It could be reported and it could be investigated. Whether or not the police would think it was criminal is up to Police Scotland for that."

Dr Laura Higson-Bliss, Lecturer in Law at Keele University, told Yahoo News that hate crime laws traditionally need to be judged if "the complained about conduct needs to be considered as threatening or abusive to the reasonable person with the intent to stir up hatred."

Dr Higson-Bliss added: "If it can be considered that the tweets sent were intended to stir up hatred - i.e. the purpose or aim was to stir up hatred, as opposed to a political critique of the new provision, or to educate and inform citizens - a person could be in breach of the law. However, if the intent can be proven to be anything other than to stir up hatred, no offence would have taken place contrary to this new provision."

She said when considering if a crime has been committed courts always weigh in if the person's right to freedom of expression is being discounted because it "constitutes a fundamental aspect of any democratic society."

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