MSPs Urged To Back Football Rules Review

12 January 2016, 07:11 | Updated: 12 January 2016, 07:12

MSPs from across Holyrood are being urged to back a review of controversial legislation aimed at tackling sectarianism.

The Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee will hear evidence from campaigners who are demanding a "full and comprehensive review'' of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 in a bid to have the legislation repealed.

Paul Quigley and Jeanette Findlay of Fans Against Criminalisation will make the case to MSPs on the committee.

The group claims that the Scottish Government gave an "explicit guarantee'' that the legislation - which criminalised offensive and threatening behaviour, including sectarian behaviour, related to football matches and any communications containing threats or incitement to religious hatred - would be reviewed by August 2015.

But it added that ministers had "utterly failed'' to do this.

The Scottish Government said a review was published last summer and there are no plans to carry out another.

In a statement to MSPs, the group said: "Ultimately, our aim is for this Act to be repealed, however a proper review would grant us as a pressure group the opportunity to properly make the case that this is required for the benefit of society.''

All of Holyrood's opposition parties opposed the legislation when it was brought forward by the SNP.

Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said "MSPs of all parties should unite to demand a review of the Football Act from the SNP Government''.

He added: "The Football Act is the most contentious piece of legislation passed since devolution. The SNP Government arrogantly railroaded it through without any cross-party support, the first time that has ever happened in Holyrood.

"At a time when trust in Scottish policing is at an all-time low, the Football Act has played an incredibly destructive role in the confidence fans have in the police.

"The reality is this law was a sticking plaster approach to sectarianism, brought in to manage headlines rather than deal with a complex problem which has affected Scotland for generations. Supporting a review is the first step on the path to repealing this misguided law.''

Fellow Labour MSP James Kelly has already pledged to bring forward a member's Bill to repeal the Act if he is returned to Holyrood in May.

Mr Kelly said: "It's time we saw SNP backbenchers with a backbone. They should admit they got it wrong on the Football Act and support these calls for a review.''

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "An independent review of the operation of Section 1 of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 was presented to the Scottish Parliament and published in June 2015. The Scottish Government does not have any plans to carry out a further review at this time.

"The Scottish Government has provided additional funding to roll out a national 'Diversion from Prosecution' education programme to be aimed at less serious and first time offenders who may fall foul of the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Act. Sacro's structured programme encourages positive behaviour change to bring about a reduction in offending.''