Football Law Evaluation Imminent

The future of a law which criminalises "offensive'' football fans is expected to be revealed in the next few weeks.

An evaluation of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act may report back before Holyrood's summer recess at the end of June, legal affairs minister Paul Wheelhouse said.

Mr Wheelhouse, who was appointed to the justice portfolio by Nicola Sturgeon in November, said legislation is important to tackle sectarianism but is "not the be all and end all''.

The Act, introduced by former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, sparked protests from supporters of some clubs who objected to being criminalised for songs and chants at football.

The Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland's final report published today was silent on the impact of the Act.

Speaking at its launch, group chairman Dr Duncan Morrow said: "We were not asked to look at the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act because it is being examined separately and I understand that it is going to be reporting in two or three weeks.

"As far as we are concerned, the key is all in the evidence, so we will be looking for the evidence on whether this is effective or whether it is not.

"Certainly, our preference is that people step up to the plate before legislation is required at every point, but sometimes legislation is required.

"The evidence will have to demonstrate or otherwise, and it will then be for the government to decide how it intends to move forward.''

Mr Wheelhouse said: "We have a commitment before August 1 this year to report back on the evaluation of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, and we will meet that commitment with the timing of that subject to parliamentary business.

"We will give a government response to that report and set out how we are planning to approach the future of the Act.

"Duncan is right that legislation is very important in this respect, but it is not the be all and end all.

"We all have a role to play in tackling sectarianism. There are many measures that have been taken, as demonstrated by the community projects that are playing a very valuable role that go beyond legislation.''

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