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JK Rowling will not be prosecuted over online comments, Scottish police say

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Scottish police will not prosecute author JK Rowling for a series of social media comments challenging contentious new hate crime legislation in the country.

Police Scotland on Tuesday said it had received complaints about posts made by the creator of Harry Potter on X on Monday, in which she described several transgender women as men.

But the force added: “The comments are not assessed to be criminal and no further action will be taken.”

Rowling, a high-profile voice in the “gender critical” movement campaign around the importance of biological sex, said in response that women would “be reassured”.

In her series of posts, Rowling invited the police to arrest her when she returned to Scotland, in a test of whether the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act would criminalise misgendering by people who stress the importance of biological sex over gender identity.

The act, which came into force on Monday, extends an existing law against “stirring up hatred” on grounds of race and ethnicity to other protected characteristics, including religion, sexuality and gender.

Passed by Scottish parliament in 2021, the legislation has provoked a furious debate in Scotland amid concerns that activists could use the law to harass their opponents in the so-called culture wars.

“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,” Rowling wrote on X on Tuesday. “And I trust that all women — irrespective of profile or financial means — will be treated equally under the law.”

While biological sex is not defined as a protected characteristic, the Scottish government says it intends to introduce a separate law tackling misogyny.

Before Police Scotland’s announcement, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak signalled his support for Rowling, saying that Britain had a proud tradition of free speech and “we should not be criminalising people for saying common sense things about biological sex”.

The dispute has echoes in other progressive policies promoted by the Scottish National party-Green coalition at Holyrood, including the furore last year over gender reform legislation that overshadowed the final months of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure.

The gender recognition reform bill — which would have reduced the age at which people can obtain a gender recognition certificate to 16 and removed the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria — was passed by Holyrood after heated debate.

But the legislation was blocked by London on the grounds that it interfered with UK-wide equalities protections.

The Scottish government has downplayed concerns voiced by free speech activists who have been campaigning against the legislation.

Humza Yousaf, Sturgeon’s successor as first minister, has said the act intends to combat a “rising tide of hatred” in society and insisted that it will only target “threatening, abusive behaviour designed to stir up hatred”.

In a letter to the Scottish parliament’s justice committee, Alan Speirs, a deputy chief constable at Police Scotland, said in March that a “great deal of care, thought and preparation” had gone into implementing the act.

But police representatives have expressed reservations around its application.

Chief superintendent Rob Hay, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, warned in a separate submission to the committee that an “activist fringe” could “weaponise” the legislation, despite safeguards around freedom of expression.

Police Scotland, with the fewest number of officers in a decade, should focus on crimes that represent the highest risk to public safety, he said last month.

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