New Offences in Offensive Behaviour at Football Matches Bill may Cause Confusion

The Law Society of Scotland today, Tuesday 21 June, voiced concerns over the Scottish Government's proposed new laws for tackling sectarianism, arguing the legislation may cause greater confusion rather than adding clarity.

The Society raised concerns during the first evidence session of the Scottish Parliament's new Justice Committee. Bill McVicar, Convener of the Society’s Criminal Law Committee, gave oral evidence after raising concerns last week over the speed at which the legislation was being taken through Holyrood.

Speaking after giving evidence, Mr McVicar said:” The Scottish Government is to be commended for focusing on the issue of sectarianism so early in this new Scottish Parliament. Ministers are rightly sending out a strong message that this kind of behaviour in any form is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“Nevertheless, it’s arguable that the majority of areas in the Bill are already covered by existing offences, such as the common law breach of the peace. The Bill’s definition of what is regarded as unacceptable behaviour at football matches may also prove difficult to determine in practical situations. There is a real risk that this additional legislation actually ends up causing more confusion rather than add any clarity.”

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill, published last week, aims to tackle the recent issues affecting Scottish football and introduces two new offences to deal with offensive behaviour at football matches and threatening communications. The Bill also seeks to cover offences in threatening communications made by British citizens outwith Scotland.

The Society's Deputy Director of Law Reform Alan McCreadie who also presented evidence to the committee this morning said: “The provisions relating to threatening communications made outwith Scotland by British citizens will be very difficult to enforce and there are questions over the likelihood of any successful prosecutions.

“All of these issues underline the importance of the parliament having time to properly consider these proposed new laws. On such an important issue as this, we need effective law that is workable and not open to successful challenge. At the very least, the parliament should consider inserting an appropriate sunset clause and review mechanism. This would all help to ensure the legislation is meeting the government's laudable efforts to tackle this most serious of issues.”

ENDS 21 JUNE 2011

Notes to editors

The Society’s written submission to the Justice Committee

The Society has noted in its submission that there is already legislation in place to deal with the offences detailed in the Bill namely, the common law breach of the peace and Section 38 of the Criminal and Justice Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football & Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill was published on Friday 17 June and the stage 1 debate will take place on Thursday 23 June.

Stage 1 of the legislation process, the evidence gathering stage, ensures Government is held to account and legislation is properly scrutinised. Government policies usually afford a 12 week pre introduction consultation before moving to legislate.

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