Scottish Minister refuses to say whether JK Rowling posts should be recorded as a hate incident amid reports of 3000 police complaints

Wednesday 3 April 2024

A Scottish Government minister declined to say if comments made by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling could be recorded as a non-crime hate incident by the police.

Community safety minister Siobhian Brown stated it is an operational matter for Police Scotland, who are tasked with enforcing the new hate crime legislation that came into effect in Scotland this week.

A non-crime hate incident is logged when an incident fails to meet the criminal threshold but is perceived as "motivated (wholly or partly) by malice and ill-will towards a social group", according to Police Scotland guidance.

Amid reports of over 3,000 complaints received so far under the new law, the minister revealed a false complaint had been made in her name. Ms Brown said, "Obviously this was a fake complaint that someone had done anonymously in my name and gave my office number."

Police have already clarified that Rowling's comments on social media on Monday "were not assessed to be criminal" and "no further action will be taken" against the writer.

Rowling effectively challenged authorities to arrest her if they believed she had committed a crime.

On X, Ms Rowling published a list of biological men who identify as women she suggested will benefit from the law, including double rapist Isla Bryson, Samantha Norris, who was convicted of possessing 16,000 child abuse images, and Amy George, who abducted a child dressed as a women.

Model and activist Munroe Bergdorf, the UN's first women's champion, was also mentioned, and Ms Rowling reignited her feud with broadcaster India Willoughby, who reported the author to police for failing to use Willoughby's preferred pronouns.

As a vocal critic of the Scottish Government's stance on trans rights, Rowling effectively challenged authorities to arrest her if they believed she had committed a crime.

When asked if Rowling's remarks would be classified as a non-crime hate incident, Ms Brown refused to answer, stating it was a decision for the police. However, SNP MP Joanna Cherry questioned whether Rowling will "have a 'non-crime hate incident' recorded against her name in respect of these comments".

The new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act consolidates existing hate crime laws and extends protections offered against racial abuse to other groups based on age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity.

While stirring up racial hatred was already illegal, the Act broadened the scope to cover these additional characteristics.

Critics, including Rowling and Elon Musk, have raised concerns about the legislation's impact on freedom of speech, while others have highlighted the potential for vexatious or malicious complaints.

Former Rangers player and football commentator Ally McCoist warned that he and thousands of fans could be "committing a breach" of the Act during Sunday's Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic. However, McCoist later said he would not be attending the match due to a "change of plans".

When asked about McCoist's concerns, Ms Brown stated, "I'm not going to comment on individuals' comments." She emphasized that behavior would have to exceed a "very high threshold" for a crime to be committed under the new legislation.

The minister clarified, "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."

Overall, Ms Brown insisted there is a "very high threshold for criminality" in the new law, emphasising that actions must be "threatening or abusive, to cause fear or alarm to individuals who have these protected characteristics" to be considered a crime.

She reiterated: "We've been very clear within this Act this is not about restricting freedom of expression, it is protected."