Radical new hate crime law in Scotland means people could go to jail if their words offend someone
By Cassie B. // Mar 29, 2024

In Scotland, a new hate crime law means that people will have to be a lot more careful about artistic expression and the things they say moving forward as police target podcasts, blog posts, social media posts and other expressions of opinion.

In a scary new development that sounds more like communist China than anything we would expect in a free country, police in Scotland have said that they will investigate every report they receive of content that can be considered hateful toward “protected characteristics.” This includes religion or perceived religious affiliation, disability, age, nationality, transgenderism, variations in sex characteristics and sexual orientation. After going through the complaint, they will carry out a “proportionate response.”

The law, which has been the subject of great controversy since its passage three years ago, will go into effect on April 1. Many are concerned about its lack of protection for freedom of speech.

A former fraud prosecutor has warned that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who lives in Edinburgh, could find herself in hot water as previous posts she has made about gender will “most likely contravene the new law.” After he advised her to start deleting her posts, she replied: “If you genuinely imagine I’d delete posts calling a man a man, so as not to be prosecuted under this ludicrous law, stand by for the mother of all April Fools’ jokes.”

Police in Scotland have said that they will only be investigating new incidents that take place after the law goes into effect, which means retrospective action would not be taken against her or anyone else for previous posts. However, concerns that these types of comments will spur an investigation moving forward are well-founded. Rowling has said that she is not transphobic and believes people should live however they please, but she has been vocal about the dangers posed by allowing biological males into female-only spaces.

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Scottish Nationalist MP Joanna Cherry KC has said she is certain the law “will be weaponised by trans rights activists to try to silence, and worse still, criminalise women who do not share their beliefs.” Cherry, who has been critical of the Scottish government’s gender policies, has suggested she believes that trans campaigners will use the new law to target Rowling.

Comedians, actors and people who share memes could face investigation

Even comedians and actors will be subject to scrutiny under the new law. In short, if somebody feels offended by what someone else says and reports them, they could face legal action. Critics of the law contend that it essentially equates harmless jokes and memes with more serious acts like revenge porn. One of the law’s provisions explicitly states that people can be prosecuted for “displaying, publishing or distributing the material” on social platforms, blogs, podcasts, sites and signs. This applies whether it is done directly or indirectly. It means that “forwarding or repeating” content that originates from a third party, such as reposting content on social media, also falls under the purview of the law.

As if this weren't bad enough, the law doesn't apply only to newspaper articles and blog posts; it actually extends to cover the things that people say everywhere, including in their own homes. This means that, at least theoretically, children will be able to report their parents for making comments that offend them. In addition, people will be able to inform on one another anonymously using third-party reporting centers.

People who are accused of hate speech will be investigated by Scottish police, who are expecting this to create a significant amount of additional work at a time when they are already overwhelmed dealing with more pressing issues. For those whose comments are ultimately judged not to be criminal in nature, they will still have a non-crime hate incident on their record.

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