A Members Bill introduced to the Scottish Parliament in June last year by MSP James Kelly to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 has been supported by a majority of the Justice Committee.
The 2012 Act came into force in March 2012. It introduced two new criminal offences:
- one which criminalises offensive and threatening behaviour at, or in connection with football matches;
- and one that criminalises threatening communications that contain threats of serious violence or threats intended to incite religious hatred.
The Justice Committee has condemned any form of sectarian behaviour, but a majority have found that the original Act was flawed, and other existing laws largely capture the behaviours it criminalises.
Now that the Members Bill has received the backing of a majority of the Committee at the first stage, it will progress through Parliament, with the possibility of the Bill being amended, before a final Parliamentary debate and binding vote.
“Whether the Act is finally repealed or not, the message that came through from the vast majority of witnesses was that this legislation needs to be changed,” commented Committee Convener Margaret Mitchell MSP.
“While there is disagreement over the best way to proceed, the Committee is united in its desire to have laws that help the police and prosecutors to clamp down on unacceptable behaviour,” she added. “However, it is vitally important that our laws actually improve relationships between various groups within society, including law enforcement and sports fans.”
The Committee also made a number of other unanimous recommendations that would apply whether or not the Act is repealed. These include an appeal to the Scottish Government to define sectarianism in law and to bring forward amendments to clear up some of the uncertainty if the current Act is kept.
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Contains information licenced under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence V2.