Editorial: Scotland's hate crime law is like an April Fool, but it is all too real

News Letter editorial on Tuesday April 2 2024:
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​Scotland’s hate crime legislation is so extreme and absurd that its unveiling yesterday could have been an April Fool.

There were plenty of April Fool’s stories in the media, incidentally including in this newspaper our page 14 story about demands for teachers’ holidays to become the norm across the NI workforce (click here link to our prank).

But the Scottish legislation is no joke.

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It is deadly serious. And the country’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, says that he is very proud of it.

It is possible in Scotland to be accused of a hate crime merely because someone thinks it was a hate crime, and for it recorded as such even if you are not found guilty of it.

It is possible to be convicted for ‘hate’ speech in your own home, if someone reports you.

The law has caused alarm across the UK, and some police leaders in Scotland think that it will lead to a deluge of claims.

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The Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who has become a fierce critic of the Scottish government's stance on transgender rights, has been one of the highest profile critics of the legislation, amid fears that people who question trans ideologies could be banned from speaking out.

But the Scottish National Party has pressed ahead with the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which came into effect yesterday, consolidating existing hate crime legislation and creating a new offence of stirring up hatred against protected characteristics.

There are grave fears for free speech in the Republic of Ireland in its own planned hate crime bill.

In Northern Ireland, the Minister of Justice Naomi Long also plans to introduce a hate crime bill to the assembly. It is essential that the Scottish model is not followed, or critics of a range of outlooks and behaviours, even including terrorism, could be outlawed.