UK

Minister refuses to say whether JK Rowling comments were non-crime hate incident

Community safety minister Siobhian Brown said such a decision is a matter for Police Scotland.

JK Rowling made a series of comments on social media after Scotland’s new hate crime laws came into effect
JK Rowling JK Rowling made a series of comments on social media after Scotland’s new hate crime laws came into effect (Yui Mok/PA)

A Scottish Government minister has refused to say if comments by Harry Potter author JK Rowling could have been recorded by police as a non-crime hate incident.

Community safety minister Siobhian Brown said it is an operational matter for Police Scotland – who have been enforcing new legislation aimed at tackling hate crime which came into force north of the border this week.

A non-crime hate incident is recorded when an incident does not meet the threshold for a crime but is perceived to be “motivated (wholly or partly) by malice and ill-will towards a social group”, according to Police Scotland guidance.

Amid reports that more than 3,000 complaints have been received so far under the new legislation, the minister also revealed a false complaint had been made in her name.

Ms Brown said she had been “surprised” to receive a call from Police Scotland about a complaint she was said to have made on Monday, the day the legislation came into force.

Community safety minister Siobhian Brown revealed a ‘fake’ complaint under Scotland’s new hate crime laws had been made to police in her name.
Community safety minister Siobhian Brown revealed a ‘fake’ complaint under Scotland’s new hate crime laws had been made to police in her name. Community safety minister Siobhian Brown revealed a ‘fake’ complaint under Scotland’s new hate crime laws had been made to police in her name. (Jane Barlow/PA)

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday, she said: “Obviously this was a fake complaint that someone had done anonymously in my name and gave my office number.”

Police have already confirmed that comments made by Rowling on social media on Monday were “not assessed to be criminal” and “no further action will be taken” against the writer.

She had made a series of posts on X in which she misgendered a number of high-profile trans figures – who are protected under the new legislation.

Rowling, a prominent critic of the Scottish Government’s stance on trans rights, effectively challenged police to arrest her if they believed she had committed a crime.

Ms Brown refused to say if the author’s remarks would be classed as a non-crime hate incident, saying that was a decision for police.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry however has also questioned whether Rowling will “have a ‘non-crime hate incident’ recorded against her name in respect of these comments”.

It comes in the midst of controversy about the new legislation, which consolidates existing laws on hate crime and extends protections offered against racial abuse to other groups of people.

While stirring up racial hatred was already a crime, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act extended this to other people on the grounds of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

Critics including Rowling and Elon Musk, the owner of X, have voiced concerns about its impact on freedom of speech, while others have raised the prospect of vexatious or malicious complaints being made under the legislation.

Meanwhile, former Rangers player turned football commentator Ally McCoist has warned he and thousands of other fans could be “committing a breach” of the legislation at this Sunday’s Old Firm derby.

McCoist said on TalkSport that he “along with 48,000 will be committing a breach of that hate Bill in the particular Rangers v Celtic game we are all going to”, branding the situation “madness”.

However, the former footballer later said a “change of plans” means he will no longer be attending the match.

Asked about McCoist’s concerns, Ms Brown said: “I’m not going to comment on individuals’ comments.”

But she stressed behaviour would have to exceed a “very high threshold” for a crime to be committed.

The minister said: “Somebody at these games would have to be inciting hatred, they would have to be threatening and abusive, with the intention of stirring up hatred to an individual at one of these games, that the individual is in fear and in alarm.

“I would truly hope that a lot of people attending a football match would not go there with the intention of doing that.”

Overall Ms Brown insisted there is a “very high threshold for criminality” in the new legislation.

She said that for something to be considered a crime the action would have to be “threatening and abusive, with the intention to stir up hatred towards an individual and that this would cause this individual to have fear or alarm”.

Rangers player turned football pundit Ally McCoist warned fans could breacn new hate crime laws at Sunday’s Old Firm derby in Glasgow.
Rangers player turned football pundit Ally McCoist warned fans could breacn new hate crime laws at Sunday’s Old Firm derby in Glasgow. Rangers player turned football pundit Ally McCoist warned fans could breacn new hate crime laws at Sunday’s Old Firm derby in Glasgow. (Steve Welsh/PA)

Ms Brown continued: “We’ve been very clear within this Act this is not about restricting freedom of expression, it is protected.

“This is particularly about being threatening or abusive, to cause fear or alarm to individuals who have these protected characteristics.”

The Tories – who are to launch a petition to repeal the legislation – warned it was being “weaponised on an industrial scale”.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said the laws were now the “biggest-ever burden on Scotland’s police officers”.

The Tory MSP said: “Within 24 hours of it coming into force, Police Scotland has been inundated with complaints, many of them spurious nonsense from activists with an axe to grind.

“At this rate the number of hate complaints will overtake the number of real crimes that are recorded each year.

“Hardworking officers want to protect our communities, not waste precious time investigating every single perceived hate crime.

“The Scottish Conservatives warned this would be disastrous for the police and have a chilling effect on free speech.

“That’s why we’re launching a petition to give the people of Scotland the chance to send a message to Humza Yousaf and the SNP, and tell them to repeal this law.”