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Bill to repeal "flawed" Offensive Behaviour at Football law introduced

26 June 2017

The bill seeking to repeal the Scottish Government's controversial law aimed at tackling sectarian and other offensive behaviour connected with football matches has come before the Scottish Parliament.

Labour MSP James Kelly secured cross-party support from nearly all the opposition MSPs to introduce his Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill, which if passed would repeal the similarly named Act of 2012 in its entirety from the day after it receives Royal Assent.

The Scottish Government has continued to defend its legislation, which was passed following some high profile incidents involving football supporters at matches, and the police and Crown claim it covers behaviour that is otherwise difficult to prosecute, but opponents claim it adds little to the criminal law, its drafting has been criticised in a series of court cases, and it is deeply unpopular with football supporters. It has been repeatedly argued that the restricted timescale within which the Act was passed did not leave enough time for proper scrutiny.

In his policy memorandum published with the bill, Mr Kelly states his belief that the 2012 Act is "flawed on several levels, including its illiberal nature, its failure to tackle sectarianism, and in view of the fact that other legislation already exists to address the issues which the Act was intended to cover".

The "illiberal" criticism centres on s 1(2)(e), which criminalises "other behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive" (where it is or would be likely to incite public disorder). The policy paper describes this as confusing and unclear, and as failing to differentiate between the football-related behaviour it is targeted at and a wider category of behaviour that people should be free to engage in, even if some would find it offensive. Similar considerations apply to s 6, which covers threatening communications.

There has also been concern that the focus on the setting of a football match means that exactly the same (sectarian) behaviour can be treated differently in law solely because of the context in which it occurs.

Click here to access the bill and related papers.

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