• Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Scotland’s hate crime law, opposed by Musk and Rowling, comes into effect

Protesters demonstrate outside the Scottish Parliament as the new law comes into force. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Vivek MishraBy: Vivek Mishra

Scotland’s new hate crime law, which has been criticised by many including the likes of Elon Musk and JK Rowling, came into force on Monday.

The new law, called the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, aims to make Scotland safer by strengthening laws against hate crimes. However, its critics argue that the law could stifle free speech and be weaponised to “settle scores,” as reported by Sky News.

Supporters of the law say that it is crucial for fostering a more inclusive society and combating fear and prejudice.

This law targets prejudice and hate by criminalising the act of threatening or abusing people with the intention of stirring up hatred against them based on certain characteristics such as age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity. It offers broader protection than previous legislation, which primarily focused on race.

The law establishes a new offence for intentionally stirring up hatred against a person or group based on protected characteristics, encompassing words, actions, or publications that could be deemed threatening or abusive.

Some argue that the law may impede free speech by criminalising offensive or critical views, even if not intended to stir up hatred. Critics are concerned that the law could be misused in personal disputes, with individuals accusing others of hateful speech simply due to disagreement.

The updated law retains the same list of characteristics that can be targeted in hate crimes—race, religion, sexuality, disability, or transgender identity—but now includes age as well.

The law no longer includes “intersexuality” in the transgender definition. Instead, it introduces a new category for hate crimes based on “variations in sex characteristics” to protect intersex individuals who possess both male and female sexual characteristics.

Under the new law, the maximum penalty is a prison sentence of seven years.

The Scottish Government asserts that the law seeks to strike a balance between protecting vulnerable groups and preserving freedom of speech.

“I think there has been a lot of misinformation,” said Victims and Community Safety Minister Siobhian Brown about the legislation. He noted that the law was passed by Members of the Scottish Parliament in 2021, approved by 82 votes to 32 with four abstentions, as reported by the BBC.

Much of the debate surrounding the new law revolves around the expanded scope for prosecuting individuals for “stirring up hatred” against a particular group.

Since 1986, it has been illegal in the UK to incite racial hatred, and laws against homophobic hate crimes have been in place since 2008 in England and Wales.

The updated law introduces new charges for stirring up hatred against individuals based on their disability, religion, transgender identity, sexuality, age, or variations in sex characteristics.

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