UK

Author JK Rowling warns Scotland’s new hate crime law is ‘wide open to abuse’

But First Minister Humza Yousaf insisted that the new legislation would help tackle a ‘rising tide’ of hate.

Author JK Rowling has warned Scotland’s new hate crime laws are ‘wide open to abuse’
JK Rowling Author JK Rowling has warned Scotland’s new hate crime laws are ‘wide open to abuse’ (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Scotland’s First Minister has insisted he is “very proud” of new hate crimes laws which have just come into force, as author JK Rowling warned the legislation is “wide open to abuse”.

The Harry Potter author, who has become a fierce critic of the Scottish Government’s stance on transgender rights, has been one of the highest profile critics of the legislation.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into effect on Monday, consolidating existing hate crime legislation and creating a new offence of stirring up hatred against protected characteristics.

However, women have not been given protection under the law, with the Scottish Government instead promising to bring forward legislation to tackle misogyny.

But with the new Act giving protection to transgender people, Rowling, who does not believe people can change their gender, insisted: “Freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal.”

In a social media post, the writer argued: “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.”

Criticising the new laws, she insisted that the “legislation is wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women’s and girls’ single-sex spaces”.

Rowling added: “I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment.”

But Humza Yousaf declared he is “very proud” of the new laws, saying they will help protect against a “rising tide” of hatred.

First Minister Humza Yousaf has said he is ‘very proud’ of the new laws, which have come into force on Monday.
First Minister Humza Yousaf has said he is ‘very proud’ of the new laws, which have come into force on Monday. First Minister Humza Yousaf has said he is ‘very proud’ of the new laws, which have come into force on Monday. (Lesley Martin/PA)

The First Minister also insisted he is “very confident in Police Scotland’s ability in order to implement this legislation in the way it should”.

It comes despite the force confirming more than an third of its officers have not yet completed an online training course in the new laws – with Deputy Chief Constable Alan Speirs saying that 10,000 of the force’s 16,000 plus officers have done so.

However Mr Yousaf said Chief Constable Jo Farrell had “made it very clear the appropriate training is absolutely being provided”.

She said recently that the new laws will be applied “in a measured way”, promising there will be “close scrutiny” of how the legislation is enforced and what reports are received.

Speaking about the new legislation, the First Minister added: “Let’s remember of course that when it comes to stirring up offences of racial hatred, stirring up offences have  existed since 1986, being policed with virtually no controversy whatsoever.”

However Elon Musk, owner of the social media platform X – formerly known as Twitter – has already raised concerns about the impact on freedom of speech.

Police Scotland will enforce new hate crime laws in a ‘measures way’ the Chief Constance has said.
Police Scotland will enforce new hate crime laws in a ‘measures way’ the Chief Constance has said. Police Scotland will enforce new hate crime laws in a ‘measures way’ the Chief Constance has said. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

And human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the fact that women are not given protection by the Act was an “astonishing exclusion”.

He told BBC Radio 4: “The big flaw in this Bill is it does not protect women against hate.”

Mr 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.

Campaigners gather outside the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood
Campaigners gather outside the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood Campaigners gather outside the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood (Lesley Martin/PA)

In a letter to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, it said the law could be “weaponised” by an “activist fringe” across the political spectrum.

The First Minister however has repeatedly claimed “disinformation” about the legislation is being spread, insisting it includes a  “triple lock” of protection for speech.

This includes an explicit clause, a defence for the accused’s behaviour being “reasonable” and the fact that the Act is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

But the Tories, who voted against the legislation when it was debated by Holyrood back in 2021, insisted the Act should be scrapped.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said: “JK Rowling speaks for many women across Scotland who see Humza Yousaf’s hate crime law for what it is, another SNP attack on women’s rights, just as we saw with Nicola Sturgeon’s gender self-ID legislation.”

He added: “Officers would rather tackle real crimes and keep communities safe, rather than having to investigate malicious and spurious complaints.

“Humza Yousaf should bin his Hate Crime Act and instead divert resources towards frontline policing which is at breaking point.”