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Stringent new hate crime law comes into force in Scotland

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London, Apr 1 (PTI) A stringent new law to crack down on hate crimes came into force in Scotland on Monday with critics warning that the act can be misused by sections of society.

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The devolved Scottish government said the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act will provide greater protection for victims and communities.

It introduces new offences for threatening or abusive behaviour which is intended to stir up hatred based on prejudice towards characteristics including age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics.

“Nobody in our society should live in fear and we are committed to building safer communities that live free from hatred and prejudice,” said Siobhian Brown, Scotland’s Minister for Victims and Community Safety.

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“We know that the impact on those on the receiving end of physical, verbal or online attacks can be traumatic and life-changing. This legislation is an essential element of our wider approach to tackling that harm,” she said.

In a letter to the Scottish Parliament Holyrood’s criminal justice committee, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) warned the law could be "weaponised" by an "activist fringe" across the political spectrum.

However, the minister stressed that protections for freedom of expression are built into the legislation passed by Parliament and these new offences have a “higher threshold for criminality than the long-standing offence of stirring up racial hatred, which has been in place since 1986”.

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The Scottish National Party (SNP) led local government said the legislation, which was passed by a majority of members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) in the Scottish Parliament in 2021, was subject to extensive consultation and engagement throughout, including with communities affected by hate crime.

“It's not Twitter police, it's not activists, it's not the media... It will be the police to investigate whether a crime has been committed,” Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf told ‘Sky News’.

"In terms of acts of hatred, I think anybody would recognise in the last few years... hatred has been far too pervasive in our society. We have to take strong action against it. We have to have a zero-tolerance approach to it. I've got every confidence in police investigating matters of hatred appropriately, and of course, making sure that we protect freedom of expression so vital to our democracy," the Pakistani-origin leader said.

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The new laws were developed following an Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation, which concluded that new specific offences relating to stirring up hatred were needed.

‘Harry Potter’ author J.K. Rowling and billionaire tech investor Elon Musk have publicly criticised the new act, suggesting it erodes free speech.

“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,” said Rowling in a social media post on X, formerly Twitter.

However, those who support the new laws insist they will make Scotland more tolerant. PTI AK PY PY PY

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