Evidence On Scrapping Offensive Behaviour Act To Be Presented At Holyrood

3 October 2017, 07:07

Football pitch

A senior police officer and supporters organisations will give evidence on the move to scrap a law aimed a tackling sectarian behaviour at football matches.

Labour's James Kelly Member's Bill plans to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

He claims the bill has "done nothing to combat bigotry" and has highlighted the opposition of lawyers, academics and football fans to the law, which was brought into force in 2012.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins will give evidence to Holyrood's Justice Committee on the repeal plans on Tuesday.

The committee will also take evidence from representatives from the Crown Office, Scottish Football Supporters Association, Supporters Direct Scotland the Fans Against Criminalisation group.

The law was passed in the last parliament after the SNP used its majority to vote the bill through despite a lack of support from other parties.

After losing the majority at the 2016 Holyrood election, the nationalists suffered a symbolic defeat last year when Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs backed a motion calling for its repeal.

Supporters of the legislation argue it helps deter fans from sectarian behaviour while those against it claim the legislation is unwieldy with some fans feeling unnecessarily criminalised.

Mr Kelly said: "The Football Act was a PR stunt pulled by a government abusing its majority.

"It has failed to tackle sectarianism and simply served to draw a divide between fans and the police, reversing years of progress.

"Instead of working to tackle sectarianism in communities, the Nationalists rushed through legislation which has done nothing to combat bigotry.

"Legal experts, human rights groups and countless supporters continue to speak out against this illiberal and ineffective legislation."

Speaking ahead of the meeting, convener Margaret Mitchell said: "The Justice Committee is aware of the strong feelings on both sides of the argument regarding this Act - and we plan to listen to the various points of view closely."

A Stage 1 vote on the bill is expected early next year


A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The vast majority of football supporters are well-behaved, and this government stands on the side of the many tens of thousands of football supporters, young and old, who want to enjoy watching our national game with family and friends in an atmosphere that is not tainted by offensive, abusive or threatening behaviour.

"But no section of society should be exempt from rules governing behaviour that is considered unacceptable - and there is widespread support for the legislation among the Scottish public as a whole.

"As groups representing victims and equalities campaigners have also indicated, repealing it would send entirely the wrong signal to both football and wider society - and those advocating repeal need to explain exactly how they would fill the potentially dangerous gaps in the law that would result."

SNP MSP James Dornan said: "James Kelly is utterly irresponsible in seeking to erode the powers our police currently have to tackle bigotry, just to land a political blow.

"He is a politician doggedly pursuing a self-serving agenda - entirely focused on his own political interests, but deaf to the views of the majority of football fans across Scotland.

"And Labour's core arguments are torpedoed by the fact of what the legislation has achieved and the overwhelming support it commands among football fans and the wider public.

"If James Kelly had a modicum of political sense he'd find a new political hobbyhorse and drop his obsession with undermining the fight against sectarianism."

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