The Memo: Hate Crime and Public Order Act introduced in Scotland

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Hate Crime and Public Order Act introduced in Scotland

Emily Dunham - 15 April 2024

As of 1 April, the Scottish government has introduced a new law, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act. It largely consolidates existing laws around hate crimes, with the aim of providing a higher level of protection for victims and communities. The law also creates a new offence of “threatening or abusive behaviour which is intended to stir up hatred” on the grounds of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics. The law was initially passed in 2021 but, unusually, has taken a while to actually come into force, following rows in Holyrood, the home of Scottish Parliament. To summarise, MSPs voted to strengthen provisions for freedom of speech after initial versions of the bill were met with criticism from religious and arts groups.

Whilst it might seem like this law can only be a good thing, it’s not without its controversy, and concerns have been expressed about the law and how it will be enforced. There are particular concerns about how it could be used maliciously against certain groups for expressing their opinions, particularly gender-critical feminists. JK Rowling has been a particularly prominent opposer of the new law for this reason, and Police Scotland said that complaints against her had been made since the introduction of the law, but no action would be taken. There were also concerns about the potential impacts of the fact that hate crime allegations can be made anonymously, but this has been possible for the last 10 years following the Macpherson report, prompted by the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Assurances have been made, as the Act has a high threshold for prosecution, and freedom of expression is still very much in play. Many groups potentially covered by the new bill appear to have welcomed the streamlining and extension of hate crime laws, but there has been some concern that the media focus on transphobia could put people off reporting hate crimes against other communities. In the first ten days since the law came into force, Police Scotland received more than 7,000 online reports of hate crimeHowever, it’s reported that most were anonymous, and no action was taken after they were assessed against the new legislation introduced.