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JK Rowling challenges Scotland’s new hate-speech law

Freedom of Speech
3 April 2024
JK Rowling

Police Scotland has announced that social media comments made by JK Rowling, in which she referred to several transgender women as men, including convicted prisoners and trans activists, will not be treated as criminal.

The newly implemented hate crime law establishes an offense of "stirring up hatred" based on protected characteristics, such as disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, or being intersex.

Despite receiving complaints regarding Rowling's comments from individuals wanting to prosecute her under the new law, Police Scotland stated that her remarks on X (formerly known as Twitter), in which she actively challenged the police to arrest her for ‘misgendering’ (that is, referring to a transgender woman as a man, in accordance with their birth sex), did not meet the threshold to qualify as hate speech.

In response to the announcement, Rowling posted:

"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.

"If they go after any woman for simply calling a man a man, I'll repeat that woman's words and they can charge us both at once."

Since its enforcement on Monday, Police Scotland has received over 3,000 complaints regarding potential violations of the law, many of which concerned a speech made by First Minister Humza Yousaf himself in 2020, who highlighted the number of people who are white holding prominent office in Scotland. (Again, the police have stated his speech then does not meet the threshold to qualify as a criminal offence).

The law affords a defense to those accused of stirring up hatred if their actions are deemed "reasonable." Additionally, it acknowledges the right to freedom of expression, encompassing ideas that may be controversial or offensive.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking in the aftermath of JK Rowling’s comments, said: “We should not be criminalising people saying common sense things about biological sex, clearly that isn't right.

"We have a proud tradition of free speech."

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