Scottish Legislation to Tackle Football Sectarianism

The report at Stage 2 on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill was published on 6 October 2011. It had been introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 16 June 2011 and it was subsequently agreed that it would be considered as an emergency bill. The Bill provides for two new criminal offences. The first offence would criminalise offensive or threatening behaviour likely to incite public disorder at certain football matches. The second offence of ‘threatening communications’ provides for a criminal offence concerning the sending of communications which contain threats of serious violence or which contain threats intended to incite religious hatred. There is some concern about the need for the Bill or how it will be applied. The majority of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee agreed that there is a gap in the law that would be addressed by the new offences. A minority of the committee believe that the current legislation, if properly enforced, already allows police and prosecutors to target offensive behaviour and threatening communications effectively. However, the committee was united in its dismay that both Scottish football authorities, the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football Association have failed to take firm action to deal with offensive behaviour at football games over many years. It also believes that if firm action had been taken earlier, offensive behaviour might have been stamped out or reduced. Committee Convener Christine Grahame MSP said: “The Committee are united in our belief that sectarianism and other offensive behaviour likely to provoke public disorder is a blight that must be wiped out of Scottish football. The majority of members support the Bill as an important way forward in challenging unacceptable behaviour in 21st century Scotland. A minority are not convinced. But we all agree that the football authorities must shoulder some of the blame. Their lack of action in joint working and clear leadership in working out who is in charge of disciplinary issues concerning SPL club fans must be addressed – and swiftly.”

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