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Police to Target Comedy as Part of Scotland's New Hate Speech Law

New fears have been raised that actors and comedians could be targeted by the SNP’s hate crime crackdown after police officers were told that a “public performance of a play” could be used to broadcast “abusive material”.

Leaked training materials for front-line officers, ahead of a new hate crime law coming into force on April 1, state that an artistic production would fall within the scope of the legislation, despite previous assurances that freedom of speech would be protected.

The revelations caused a backlash from high-profile artists, who said they feared delivering lines as a fictional character could risk prosecution if an offended audience member complained to police.

The training materials, first obtained by The Herald, outline ways in which “threatening and or abusive material” might be communicated under Section 4 of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act.

This relates to “offences of stirring up hatred” against protected groups, which carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. It cites examples such as through social media posts, creating signs and playing videos, before adding this could also be “through public performance of a play”.

It is thought by experts that the legislation will be used by Muslims to attack any criticism of Islam which already enjoys special treatment according to Christian groups. The new law is also expected to make joking about Trans issues a criminal offence, with Trans groups expected to begin accusing people of hate crime for saying anything negative about the ideology.

The legislation, making its way through Holyrood, has only now caused an outcry from artists even though freedom campaigners have been warning of its coming for over three years. The law could effectively shut down any Comedy show, play, or live stream if someone decides to take offence at the material used.

There are some protections within the bill but they do not cover the actors or comedians delivering the lines who could face prison as a result. Scott Wortley, a law lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, said the protections applied only to directors and other third parties involved in a production, not to the performers themselves.

Al Murray, the 'comedian', responded to the emergence of the training materials by writing “f— this” on X, formerly Twitter.

Mark Millar, the comic book writer whose work has been made into hit Hollywood films such as Kick-Ass, claimed that under the law, actors could be prosecuted for “delivering lines written by long-dead playwrights”.

Russell Findlay, the justice spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said it appeared that the police training materials contradicted legislation passed by MSPs, which excluded plays from its scope.

“This revelation adds to widespread concerns about Humza Yousaf’s hate crime law and needs to be explained,” he said.

“The Scottish Conservatives remain committed to binning this dangerous law which threatens free speech and risks causing chaos for hard-working police officers.”

Russell Findlay, justice spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said the party would 'bin' the new law.

Supporters of the legislation insist there are strong protections for freedom of speech, including actors and comedians who might make jokes some people may find offensive.

It consolidates existing legislation and introduces a new offence of “stirring up hatred” against people with protected characteristics, such as disability, race, religion or transgender identity.

However, there are fears that police will be swamped with vexatious complaints and that even if cases are not taken forward to court, police officers will be tasked with making difficult judgments over the balance between hate and free speech.

Trans rights activists have vowed to target JK Rowling with the new legislation, claiming her publicly “misgendering” people, by referring to trans women as men, would constitute a crime under the law. Ricky Gervais's sketch about Trans women with penises would almost certainly fall under the new rules, meaning if he performed that sketch in Scotland he would face seven years in prison.

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