Scotland to launch new hate speech law on April Fool's Day, which will impose prison sentences of up to 7 years

Scotland's new hate crime and public order law will come into force on April 1, also known as April Fool's Day, and people ranging from Catholic clergy to Harry Potter author JK Rowling have convicted of restriction of fundamental freedoms.

The text of the bill, originally introduced years ago, warns against acts that “incite hatred against a group of people” with certain protected characteristics, including age, disability, religion or, in case of a social or cultural group, perceived as religious. affiliation, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics.

Official government explanatory notes warn that a person can be prosecuted for “inciting hatred” by expressing or sharing offensive rhetoric in various media, including “displaying, publishing or distributing material, for example on a placard; on the Internet via websites, blogs, podcasts, social media, etc., either directly or by transmitting or repeating material from a third party, via printed media such as magazine publications or flyers, etc. Give, send, show or read the material to another person, for example via online streaming, email, playing a video, public performance of a play, etc.

Those found guilty of “stoking hatred” in this way could be fined and imprisoned for up to seven years.

Scottish politician Humza Yousaf speaks in Parliament

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf is credited with shepherding the bill through Parliament. ((Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images))

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The government notes then add that this may also include: “making the material available to another person in any way, for example by speaking, writing, electronic communications, etc., either directly ( as the author of the material), or by transmitting or repeating the material.

Rowling said in a post about the social media law on Sunday: “If you honestly imagine that I would delete posts calling a man a man, so as not to be prosecuted under this ridiculous law, wait for the mother of all April Fool's jokes.

Tony Lenehan, president of the Faculty of Lawyers' Criminal Bar Association, warned on the BBC: “Where the new statute is woven with threads of subjectivity, the broadcasters, the after-dinner speakers, the comedians, the Debaters and playwrights must trust to chance that they will not end up being prosecuted under this.

Although the Scottish National Police has denied that it will “proactively target actors, comedians or any other person or group”, it will nevertheless respond to complaints once they have been made, urging people who have witnessed or targeted by hate incidents to contact her.

Humza Yousaf, leader of the Scottish National Party

Humza Yousaf, then newly elected leader of the Scottish National Party, speaks after being announced as the new leader of the SNP, at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland, Monday March 27, 2023. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)


The Scottish Parliament's website states that although “there are already laws in place to protect certain groups from hate crime”, this legislation “updates these existing laws and consolidates most of these laws into one bill.” It also adds to groups currently specifically protected by hate crime laws.

What some might find ironic is that the bill also said it abolished “blasphemy” as a prosecutable offense.

The National Catholic Register recalled that in 2020, while the bill was still progressing through Parliament, the Catholic bishops of Scotland argued that it could lead to the censorship of religious social teaching and designate texts such that the Bible as “incendiary material”. The bishops also noted that their religion's teachings on sex and gender “could be seen by others as an abuse of their own worldview and likely to stoke hatred.”


Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf is credited with leading this hate crime bill through the Scottish Parliament.

At the time, the then Justice Secretary touted that the bill “sends a strong and clear message to victims, perpetrators, communities and society at large that crime motivated by prejudices would be treated seriously and would not be tolerated.”


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