JK Rowling vows to defend 'lower-profile women' if they're pursued by police for 'simply calling a man a man' – after cops refused to arrest author for her trans tweets amid backlash at Scotland's new hate crime laws

  • Post category:news
  • Reading time:27 min(s) read

  • Rowling says she will stand by any women accused of breaching new hate laws
  • Police say tweets she made about trans women do not breach hate crime laws
  • READ MORE: Fury of women’s rights campaigners as new law comes into force 

JK Rowling says she hopes all women will be treated equally by Scotland’s new controversial hate crime laws – after police decided not to take any action against her over tweets she made about transgender people.

The Harry Potter author had dared Police Scotland to arrest her on Monday for describing a string of prominent trans women as men before the force confirmed no action would be taken – as the new laws were protested outside Holyrood.

Ms Rowling welcomed the decision, saying: ‘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.’

She warned the police that she was ready to intervene if they pursued lower-profile women for making similar comments, adding: ‘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.’

Ms Rowling, a prominent critic of gender identity, has been targeted by trans activists who vowed to pursue her under the new law.

The SNP’s Hate Crime Act introduces offences for threatening or abusive behaviour intended to stir up hatred, which in Scotland previously applied only to race, and includes a possible seven-year jail sentence.

JK Rowling pictured at the premiere of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald in 2018. She is not facing action from Police Scotland over tweets she shared about trans women

JK Rowling pictured at the premiere of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald in 2018. She is not facing action from Police Scotland over tweets she shared about trans women

Rowling said the assessment by Police Scotland should 'reassure' women that 'irrespective of profile or financial means (they) will be treated equally under the law'

Rowling said the assessment by Police Scotland should ‘reassure’ women that ‘irrespective of profile or financial means (they) will be treated equally under the law’

Protesters demonstrated outside the Scottish Parliament as the country's new Hate Crime Law came into effect on Monday

Protesters demonstrated outside the Scottish Parliament as the country’s new Hate Crime Law came into effect on Monday

JK Rowling has unleashed her furor at Scotland's new hate crime law which could see people arrested for using a transgender person's wrong pronouns

JK Rowling has unleashed her furor at Scotland’s new hate crime law which could see people arrested for using a transgender person’s wrong pronouns

 

 

The Harry Potter author sarcastically posted a long thread on X/Twitter on transgender women as she criticised Scotland's new Hate Crime Act which came into force on April 1

The Harry Potter author sarcastically posted a long thread on X/Twitter on transgender women as she criticised Scotland’s new Hate Crime Act which came into force on April 1

On Tuesday, the legislation descended into chaos as Police Scotland confirmed that it had ‘received complaints’ about a social media post in which the writer had named 10 trans women as men but said it would take no action. 

In a statement, the force explained: ‘The comments are not assessed to be criminal and no further action will be taken.’

It comes as divisions within the Labour Party over the new legislation were laid bare – with Scotland’s Labour leader backing the measure and a London front bencher suggesting his party would not expand the law across Britain.

Shadow cabinet minister Pat McFadden insisted that Labour would not extend the Scottish hate crime law to the rest of the country – despite backing its introduction north of the border.

READ MORE: SARAH VINE: JK Rowling is an inspiration, an icon and a hero. And while she’s been let down by the Harry Potter stars she helped make… the women of Britain are behind her 

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He said his party was ‘not planning’ new legislation and suggested that Scotland’s law may prove impossible to enforce.

However, a Tory source pointed out that the Scottish Labour Party had voted for the law, with leader Anas Sarwar saying this week it was ‘the right thing to do’.

The source accused Labour of ‘saying different on different sides of the border’.

Scotland’s hate crime law came into force in a blaze of publicity on Monday, when Ms Rowling signed off her defiant message on social media with the hashtag #arrestme.

Downing Street yesterday warned that the legislation would have a ‘potentially chilling effect on free speech’ and said it would not be extended to the rest of the UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: ‘We’re not going to do anything like that here in England.

‘We should not be criminalising people for saying common-sense things about biological sex. Clearly that isn’t right.

‘We have a proud tradition of free speech and I think it just shows that whether it’s the SNP or Labour, these are the wrong sets of priorities for the country.’

Asked about Ms Rowling’s case, he said: ‘It’s not for me to comment on police matters, individual matters, but what I do support very strongly are people’s right to free speech, and nobody should be criminalised for saying common-sense things about biological sex.’

However, the Labour Party appeared divided over the issue.

Championed by the SNP’s leader Humza Yousaf, the new act was also backed by Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats when it passed through Scotland’s Parliament in 2021.

Some 15 Scottish Labour members voted for the legislation, including Mr Sarwar, while only three voted against.

Speaking at the weekend, Mr Sarwar acknowledged that there was a ‘huge gap in the legislation’ in terms of its failure to protect women. But the Scottish Labour Party leader defended his decision to support the law.

He said the controversy had been overblown and police needed more training on its implementation. Mr Sarwar said the law would make Scotland a ‘more tolerant nation’.

He told LBC radio station: ‘We supported the legislation going through Parliament and I stand by that being the right thing to do.

‘The challenge here isn’t whether the law is flawed, it’s whether the way it is being interpreted and implemented is flawed.’

Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf, who has championed the new Hate Crime Act that came into force on Monday

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf, who has championed the new Hate Crime Act that came into force on Monday

The legislation was supported by Scottish Labour MSPs, including leader Anas Sarwar (above)

The legislation was supported by Scottish Labour MSPs, including leader Anas Sarwar (above)

But shadow cabinet minister Pat McFadden says Labour will not propose similar legislation south of the border - despite giving the Scottish law its support

But shadow cabinet minister Pat McFadden says Labour will not propose similar legislation south of the border – despite giving the Scottish law its support

Mr Sarwar added: ‘I don’t want us to get involved in trying to police thought.’ But Mr McFadden said that a future Labour government would not introduce the law to the rest of the UK, adding that Ms Rowling should not be arrested.

He told GB News: ‘We want proper enforcement of the anti-hate crime laws that are there and to make sure that the right penalties are in place to protect people.’

Mr McFadden added: ‘It’s a law passed by the Scottish Parliament. I thought it was slightly strange that they didn’t include women in the law.

‘They’ve included a number of other categories… that seems like something that should be addressed.’

Racists target First Minister Humza Yousaf 

Scotland’s First Minister says it is ‘increasingly difficult’ to shield his children from racism after offensive graffiti was sprayed near to his home. 

Humza Yousaf spoke out after abuse related to his Pakistani heritage was daubed on walls and fences of nearby properties in Dundee – and suggested that the vandalism helped to make the case for his new hate crime law. 

Mr Yousaf posted online: ‘I do my best to shield my children from the racism and Islamophobia I face on a regular basis. That becomes increasingly difficult when racist graffiti targeting me appears near our family home.’

Mr Yousaf added that it was a ‘reminder of why we must, collectively, take a zero-tolerance approach to hatred’. 

The Hate Crime Act extends the offence of stirring up racial hatred to other characteristics, including age, disability and religion. 

A Police Scotland spokesman said: ‘We received a report of offensive graffiti in Broughty Ferry at about 1.30pm on Monday. Inquiries are ongoing.’ 

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The Labour MP also questioned whether the new law could be enforced following warnings that it could lead to the police being asked to intervene in thousands of personal disputes and verbal spats.

‘We will see how this can be enforced,’ he said. ‘It looks to me like this might not be an easy passage.’

The new legislation has also been slammed by former Scotland international footballer Ally McCoist, who described it as ‘madness’ that would likely be breached regularly by football fans engaging in sectarian chants north of the border.

In her social media post, Rowling listed ten high-profile trans people and denied their claims to be women. 

They included double rapist Isla Bryson, 31, who was initially jailed for eight years at a women’s prison before later being moved to a male prison following a widespread backlash.

Bryson, who was known as Adam Graham at the time of the offences, began transitioning only in 2020 after being charged.

Initially referring to them as ‘women’, Rowling ended the thread by saying: ‘April Fools! Only kidding. Obviously, the people mentioned in the above tweets aren’t women at all, but men, every last one of them.’ 

Ms Rowling added: ‘In passing the Scottish Hate Crime Act, Scottish lawmakers seem to have placed higher value on the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness, however misogynistically or opportunistically, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls.

‘The new 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, the nonsense made of crime data if violent and sexual assaults committed by men are recorded as female crimes, the grotesque unfairness of allowing males to compete in female sports, the injustice of women’s jobs, honours and opportunities being taken by trans-identified men, and the reality and immutability of biological sex.

‘For several years now, Scottish women have been pressured by their government and members of the police force to deny the evidence of their eyes and ears, repudiate biological facts and embrace a neo-religious concept of gender that is unprovable and untestable.

‘The re-definition of ‘woman’ to include every man who declares himself one has already had serious consequences for women’s and girls’ rights and safety in Scotland, with the strongest impact felt, as ever, by the most vulnerable, including female prisoners and rape survivors. 

‘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.’ 

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which came into effect on Monday, aims to protect a number of characteristics from abuse under the law, including age, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity and those with variations in sex characteristics, such as intersex people.

But Rowling continued: ‘Freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal.

‘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.’

She signed it off with the hashtag #arrestme.

The hate crime bill, introduced on Monday, criminalises 'threatening or abusive behaviour' intended to stir up hatred against someone's identity

The hate crime bill, introduced on Monday, criminalises ‘threatening or abusive behaviour’ intended to stir up hatred against someone’s identity

People hold up signs as they protest outside the Scottish Parliament on Monday as the new legislation came into effect

People hold up signs as they protest outside the Scottish Parliament on Monday as the new legislation came into effect

SNP MP Joanna Cherry said: 'Pleased to see my good friend JK Rowling exercise her rights to freedom of speech and freedom of belief by tweeting in defence of women's rights'

SNP MP Joanna Cherry said: ‘Pleased to see my good friend JK Rowling exercise her rights to freedom of speech and freedom of belief by tweeting in defence of women’s rights’

As the 58-year-old’s comments whipped up a social media storm, the Prime Minister entered the row, saying: ‘People should not be criminalised for stating simple facts on biology.

‘We believe in free speech in this country, and Conservatives will always protect it.’

Ms Rowling’s comments came after Siobhian Brown, the SNP’s minister for community safety, said those who misgender others online, calling a trans woman ‘he’, for example, ‘could be investigated’ by police.

Thousands of police officers are ‘not trained’ on new hate law 

It has emerged that more than a third of Scotland’s police officers haven’t been trained on the new hate crime law.

The Telegraph reported that 6,000 of Police Scotland’s 16,000 officers haven’t completed the two-hour training course. 

The Scottish Police Federation said that officers had been allocated the ‘cheap’ two-hour course which wasn’t sufficient, it claimed.

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Ms Rowling, who warned of the effect on free speech, was reported to Northumbria Police last month for calling trans TV broadcaster India Willoughby a ‘man’. Police later said the complaint did not meet the criminal threshold.

Earlier, Scottish minister Siobhian Brown suggested people ‘could be investigated’ for misgendering someone online.

But Rowling challenged that theory with her posts on April 1, referring to double rapist Isla Bryson, child sex attacker Katie Dolatowski and a number of other high-profile trans women as ‘men’.

Ms Rowling has won support from across the political spectrum. Russell Findlay, the Tory MSP who discovered he had a non-crime hate incident logged next to his name, 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.’

On social media, SNP MP Joanna Cherry said: ‘Pleased to see my good friend JK Rowling exercise her rights to freedom of speech and freedom of belief by tweeting in defence of women’s rights.’

But Ms Willoughby, one of those on Ms Rowling’s list, said: ‘The onslaught against me and trans people generally today caused by a particular person is unacceptable. 

‘As is all of her acolytes saying they are entitled not to respect, and to disobey the law on protected characteristics. It’s nasty, vindictive bullying.’

The new laws have been opposed by freedom of speech campaigners including Andrew Neil and X boss Elon Musk, who said in response to a series of tweets about the laws that it was ‘an example of why it is so important to preserve freedom of speech’.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘The big flaw in this Bill is it does not protect women against hate. There is no protection against misogyny and that is an astonishing exclusion.’

Former Scottish Government minister Ash Regan has also said the legislation should be repealed.

When the Bill was passed in 2021 she was a junior minister, with Ms Regan – who is now an Alba MSP – saying she raised her concerns with Humza Yousaf, then the justice secretary.

The Scottish Government's Hate Crime and Public Order Act will criminalise threatening behaviour that stirs up hatred against people because of their characteristics

The Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act will criminalise threatening behaviour that stirs up hatred against people because of their characteristics

The Harry Potter author ridiculed the legislation a string of tweets on X where she sarcastically urged her followers to respect 'lovely Scottish lass' Isla Bryon - a convicted double rapist

The Harry Potter author ridiculed the legislation a string of tweets on X where she sarcastically urged her followers to respect ‘lovely Scottish lass’ Isla Bryon – a convicted double rapist

Writing in The Times newspaper, she said she had raised ‘two core concerns’ with him, about the ‘protection of vocal disagreement without fear of recrimination, and misogyny’ – something Scottish ministers plan to bring in separate legislation to deal with.

With the Alba Party having launched a petition calling for the Act to be repealed, Ms Regan stated: ‘As a junior minister in 2021 I voted for a Bill that promised a pathway to additional protections.

‘The reality, three years on, is that Scotland, our police and parliament have been embarrassed, left to traverse a self-destructive pathway.

‘The root cause of this is the erosion of good governance to safeguard our legislative processes. I must now side with those who call for repeal.’

READ MORE: Police chiefs savage hate crime flaws: officers warn new law risks being ‘weaponised’, damaging trust in force and making it harder to tackle serious crime

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A Scottish government spokesman said women were already protected from abusive behaviour in law, adding: ‘The Hate Crime Act will help to tackle the harm caused by hatred and prejudice and provide greater protections for victims and communities. The right to freedom of expression is built into the legislation and there is a high threshold for criminality.’

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act aims to tackle the harm caused by hatred by providing greater protection for victims and communities. 

However, critics say the laws could be used to stifle free speech and that gender-critical activists could be jailed for using the wrong pronoun for a transgender person. 

It comes after furious protesters staged a rally outside the Scottish Parliament in opposition to the SNP’s controversial new hate crime laws.

Some of the signs read, ‘a man can’t become a woman. simple’,  ‘we hate the Hate Crime Laws’ and ‘the SNP are the Hate Crime Monsters’.

The protesters also held up placards signs that read, ‘truth is not hate speech’, ‘keep trans ideology out of our schools’ and ‘Scotland says no to Humza’s hate crime bill.’

Others at the demonstration had tape over their mouths which had the SNP logo on it. 

Rowling also highlighted other trans women who had been convicted of crimes.

She said Samantha Norris – a transgender charity worker who was jailed for possessing thousands of ‘abhorrent’ child abuse images – was ‘still a lady to me’.

In other posts she scoffed at those who had been given high-profile roles to represent women, such as UN Women selecting Munroe Bergdorf as its first ever UK champion. She wrote: ‘What makes a woman ‘a woman’ has no definitive answer, says Munroe. Great choice, UN Women!’

Rowling said in a lengthy statement on X: ‘The re-definition of ‘woman’ to include every man who declares himself one has already had serious consequences for women’s and girls’ rights and safety in Scotland, with the strongest impact felt, as ever, by the most vulnerable, including female prisoners and rape survivors. 

‘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. 

‘Freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal.’

The author said that while she is out of the country, her series of tweets this morning ‘qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act’.

She added: ‘I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment.’

Her comments come as feminist campaigners warned that the new bill could ‘havoc’ and gag free speech on gender rights issues. 

Bryson, 31, formerly known as Adam Graham, from Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire

Bryson, 31, formerly known as Adam Graham, from Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire

Bryson was jailed for eight years after being found guilty of raping two women while still a man

Bryson was jailed for eight years after being found guilty of raping two women while still a man

The Harry Potter author shared photos of Bryson before and after transitioning

The Harry Potter author shared photos of Bryson before and after transitioning

Rowling sarcastically referred to Dolatowski, a transgender paedophile who assaulted children in supermarket toilets, as 'fragile flower'. Pictured: Dolatowski at Falkirk sheriffs court

Rowling sarcastically referred to Dolatowski, a transgender paedophile who assaulted children in supermarket toilets, as ‘fragile flower’. Pictured: Dolatowski at Falkirk sheriffs court 

Dolatowski leaves Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court. Dolatowski, originally from Kirkcaldy, Fife, sexually assaulted a child in a nearby supermarket bathroom in March 2018

Dolatowski leaves Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court. Dolatowski, originally from Kirkcaldy, Fife, sexually assaulted a child in a nearby supermarket bathroom in March 2018

A stirring-up offence on the basis of race has been on the statute book in Scotland since 1986 but the legislation has raised concerns about a potential chilling of free speech.

Prominent critics include podcaster Joe Rogan and Elon Musk, the owner of X – formerly Twitter. 

The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) also warned of the risk of vexatious complaints.

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

Rob Hay, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said: ‘Our concern is that it could impact through a huge uplift, potentially, in reports – some of those potentially made in good faith but perhaps not meeting the threshold of the legislation, or potentially in cases where people are trying to actually actively use the legislation to score points against people who sit on the other side of a particularly controversial debate.’ 

Ch Supt Hay warned that public trust in police could be harmed. He told BBC Radio Scotland’s The Sunday Show: ‘If you have hopes of the police intervening at a particular level and actually the criminal threshold isn’t met then potentially you are going to be disappointed and lose trust in the police. 

‘And at the other side of that, if you know fine well that something you have said does not meet the criminal threshold and yet it is reported to police and the police come and investigate you, then you in turn might feel that you’ve been stifled, you’ve been silenced.’ 

First Minister Humza Yousaf said on Friday: ‘I would say to anybody who thinks they are a victim of hatred, we take that seriously, if you felt you are a victim of hatred, then of course reporting that to police is the right thing to do.

‘If you’re thinking about making a vexatious complaint, if you’re thinking about making a complaint and there’s no merit in that, then do know that the police will take that serious in terms of tackling vexatious complaints, and so I would urge you not to do it.’

Scotland's minister for victims and community safety Siobhian Brown said it was up to the police to decide whether someone would be arrested for misgendering

Scotland’s minister for victims and community safety Siobhian Brown said it was up to the police to decide whether someone would be arrested for misgendering 

Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf. There has been widespread condemnation of the new law ¿ the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act ¿ amid fears it will be weaponised for political purposes

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf. There has been widespread condemnation of the new law – the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act – amid fears it will be weaponised for political purposes

Chief Superintendent Rob Hay, president of ASPS, has raised serious concerns about the law in a letter to Holyrood¿s criminal justice committee

Chief Superintendent Rob Hay, president of ASPS, has raised serious concerns about the law in a letter to Holyrood’s criminal justice committee

The First Minister has repeatedly said there is ‘disinformation’ being spread about the Bill and what it entails, claiming there is a ‘triple lock’ of protection for speech.

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

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) has claimed training for officers is not adequate.

The Act has been a running sore for the SNP-led government in recent years, with a number of changes having to be made before it was passed and the three-year gap before it came into effect.

Critics, many of whom including the Harry Potter author hold gender-critical views, have said it would be weaponised against them.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry has previously said being under police investigation could be a punishment in itself.

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Russell Findlay – who along with his party has been an ardent opponent of the law – said: ‘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.’

Police Scotland Chief Constable Jo Farrell, speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority board, said the force would apply the Act ‘in a measured way’.

She added there would be ‘close scrutiny’ of how the legislation is being enforced as well as what reports are being received.

What changes are being made by Scotland’s new hate crime laws?

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 has come into force on April 1, 2024.

It creates a new crime of ‘stirring up hatred’ relating to age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or being intersex – and the maximum penalty for offending is a jail term of seven years.

The act says a person can be found guilty if they communicate material or behave in a way ‘that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive’, with the intention of stirring up hatred based on the protected characteristics.

Britain’s Public Order Act 1986 already criminalises stirring up hatred based on race, colour, nationality or ethnicity.

But the new Scottish law is said to set the bar lower for finding offence, as it includes ‘insulting’ behaviour and says prosecutors need only prove that stirring up hatred was ‘likely’ instead of ‘intended’.

A dedicated team within Police Scotland is said to include ‘a number of hate crime advisers’ to help officers in determining what action to take against suspected offenders.

Summary convictions dealt with in magistrates’ courts will be able to carry prison terms of up to 12 months as well as fines, while more serious offenders who are indicted and handled in crown courts could be jailed for as many as seven years while also facing potential fines. 

Stirring up hatred over race, religion or sexual orientation by threatening behaviour is illegal in England and Wales.

There has been criticism of the new Scottish act for not covering hatred of women. 

The Scottish government has promised to introduce a new bill specifically targeting misogyny. 

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What is the Hate Crime Act? 

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, passed in 2021, followed a review of hate crime legislation by Lord Bracadale.

There has been a statutory offence of incitement to racial hatred since 1965 but the 2021 Act creates other offences of ‘stirring up’ hatred in several other categories.

These are called ‘protected characteristics’: age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and ‘variations in sex characteristics’ (relating to ‘physical and biological characteristics of the body’).

What does ‘stirring up’ hatred mean and how can you break the law?

It is conduct which encourages others to hate a particular group of people.

To fall foul of the law, you would have to behave in a manner that a ‘reasonable person’ would consider to be threatening or abusive – or, in the case of racial hatred, insulting.

The law also applies to communication of material – for example on social media – in addition to comments or behaviour.

Other crimes, such as assault, can be ‘aggravated’ by offences under the Hate Crime Act, if a motivation of ‘malice and

ill-will’ can be shown towards someone with ‘protected characteristics’ – for example if someone is assaulted because of their race or disability.

What is a ‘reasonable person’?

A ‘reasonable person’ is an ordinary citizen, famously referred to by Lord Devlin as the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ – and it is a test used in other areas of the law.

The test is intended to be objective so a police officer

or prosecutor has to put themselves in the position of a ‘reasonable person’ to make a judgment about potentially unlawful comments or behaviour.

What are the possible penalties?

Someone convicted of stirring up hatred under the Act after a jury trial could be jailed for seven years, or be hit with a fine, or both.

For a less serious offence – tried by a sheriff sitting without a jury – they could be jailed for a year, or fined, or both.

Is there any legal defence to a charge under the Act?

Yes – it is a defence to show your behaviour or commun-ication was ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances.

When considering reasonableness, there must be ‘particular regard’ to the importance of the right to free speech – even when it is offensive, shocking or disturbing.

Under the Hate Crime Act, the threshold of criminal liability is not that a victim feels offended but that a reasonable person would consider the perpetrator’s action or speech to be threatening or abusive.

Do all minorities covered by the Act have the same legal protection?

No, there are differences. ‘Race’ includes nationality and citizenship as well as colour and ethnicity.

The offence of stirring up racial hatred can be committed not only where behaviour or communication is threatening or abusive, but also where it is insulting.

This is not the case for sexual orientation, transgender identity, age or disability.

For these categories, it is not an offence if actions or speech are merely insulting – they would have to be threatening or abusive and intended to stir up hatred.

What about religion?

‘Discussion or criticism’ of religion is permitted under the Act – together with ‘expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult’.

Stirring up hatred on religious grounds is an offence, but the threats or abuse ‘would have to be truly outrageous before the criminal law was interested’, according to legal expert Professor Adam Tomkins, a former Tory MSP.

Ridiculing or even insulting someone’s religion might be unwelcome – but it would not be criminal under the Hate Crime Act.

Does the law apply only in public?

No – it also applies to private homes, not just to comments or behaviour in public, raising the possibility that dinner party conversations could be criminalised.

Critics say this level of state intrusion is unjustifiable and Lord Bracadale, who carried out the review which led to the new law, was opposed to the move.

Professor Tomkins, a legal expert at Glasgow University, backed the broad principles of the Act – but ultimately voted against it while an MSP over the extension of its reach to people’s homes.

Will it undermine artistic freedom?

Police Scotland insists it will not ‘target’ actors and stand-up comedians who take part in productions or make jokes which could be considered to contravene the Act.

But it has said that all complaints about alleged hate crimes will be investigated – so if a spectator contacted police about a joke by Frankie Boyle, for example, it would be taken seriously.

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF), representing rank-and-file officers, has warned that the Fringe festival in Edinburgh could be ‘busier than normal’ this summer, as officers may have to question comedians who are the subject of hate crime complaints.

What have the police said about the Act?

The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents has warned that activists could seek to ‘weaponise’ the new legislation.

Officers could be swamped with vexatious complaints – at a time when Police Scotland has said it will no longer investigate minor crimes.

It also warns that public trust in the police could be damaged if the service is drawn into online spats – taking officers away from investigating more serious crime.

The SPF has said officers have not received adequate training – and believes that not all of them will have been trained in enforcement of the new legislation by today.

Will ‘misgendering’ be a criminal offence under the Act?

Women’s campaigners say no explicit safeguards have been written into the law to protect those who insist that (for example) people cannot change sex, or that only women can be lesbians.

First Minister Humza Yousaf claims that ‘if you were to say a trans man is not a real man or a trans woman is not a real woman, you would not be prosecuted’ – as long as you did not intend to stir up hatred.

JK Rowling has said she will not delete social media posts which could breach the ‘ludicrous’ law after she was embroiled in a misgendering row with transgender broadcaster India Willoughby.

What is a ‘hate incident’?

The recording of ‘non-crime hate incidents’ pre-dates the Hate Crime Act – but there could be more of them as a result of its implementation.

Officers can log an incident where no criminality has been proven to build up a picture of the prevalence of racial tension, for example, in the community, and reports can be made by third parties – such as someone who overhears a remark and believes it could be a hate crime.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser revealed last week he was the subject of a non-crime hate incident after a trans activist reported him over a tweet critical of SNP Government non-binary policy.

Mr Fraser is threatening legal action against Police Scotland to have the policy scrapped.