Call for evidence on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill

 

Call for evidence

Remit

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is seeking views on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill.

 
The Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 21 June 2017. The Bill repeals the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

Key issues

The policy objective of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill is to repeal, in its entirety, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. The Member in charge of the Bill, James Kelly MSP, believes the legislation to be flawed on several levels, including its “illiberal” nature, its perceived failure to tackle sectarianism, and his view that other legislation and common law offences already exist, to address the issues which the Act was intended to cover.

The 2012 Act makes provision for two criminal offences, one involving “offensive behaviour at regulated football matches” (section 1), and one involving “threatening communications” (section 6).

Offensive behaviour at regulated football matches

 
The 2012 Act provides the police with powers to deal with offensive or threatening behaviour which is liable to incite public disorder at football matches. The criminal offence is intended to address the problem of offensive and threatening conduct, including singing and chanting and the display of offensive flags and banners (in particular, those deemed to be of a sectarian or racist nature) which are known to incite public disorder associated with football matches.

 
The Scottish Government believes that this criminal offence is necessary as a substantial proportion of offensive behaviour related to football which leads to public disorder is not explicitly caught by current law.

 
The Act provides that the offence can be committed at a regulated football match or while the person committing it is entering or leaving (or trying to enter or leave) the ground; on a journey to or from a regulated football match; or at any venue where a football match is being broadcast.

 
Threatening communications

The 2012 Act provides powers to tackle threatening communications. Although a number of offence provisions exist which may apply in respect of the making of threatening communications, the Scottish Government believes that they are not always easily applied to threats made with the intent of inciting religious hatred.

 
Unlike England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, Scotland did not have a specific offence for inciting religious hatred without a racial element. The offence in the 2012 Act includes two classes of threat: threats of serious violence, and threats intended to stir up religious hatred, whether or not they involve threats of serious violence.

 
An offence has been committed if one of the following conditions is met:
Condition A – the material consists of, contains or implies a threat, or an incitement, to carry out a seriously violent act against a person or against persons of a particular description: the material or the communication of it would be likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm; and the person communicating the material (i) intends by doing so to cause fear or alarm, or (ii) is reckless as to whether the communication of the material would cause fear or alarm.

Condition B - the material is threatening, and the person communicating it intends by doing so to stir up religious hatred. (Further provision is made, in section 7 of the Act, to protect freedom of expression by clarifying that condition B does not include the expression of certain views, eg ridicule, in relation to religious belief.)

Issues for consideration

The Committee welcomes written evidence on any aspect of the Bill. It would be helpful if respondents could address any of the following questions in their submissions:
1. Do you agree with the proposal in the Bill to repeal the 2012 Act? What are your reasons for coming to this view?
2. Did you support the original legislation?
3. Do you consider that other existing provisions of criminal law are sufficient to prosecute offensive behaviour related to football which leads to public disorder? If so, could you specify the criminal law provisions? Or does repeal of section 1 risk creating a gap in the criminal law?
4. Do you have a view on the focus of section 1 of the 2012 Act, which criminalises behaviour surrounding watching, attending or travelling to or from football matches, which may not be criminalised in other settings?
5. Do you consider that other existing provisions of criminal law are sufficient to prosecute threats made with the intent of causing a person or persons fear or alarm or inciting religious hatred? If so, could you specify the criminal law provisions? Or does repeal of section 6 risk creating a gap in the criminal law?
6. Do you have a view on the proposed transitional arrangements in the Bill: that there should be no further convictions for section 1 and 6 offences from the date on which the repeal of those offences takes effect; and that the police will cease issuing fixed penalty notices at least from the point at which the Bill is passed?
7. To what extent do you consider that the 2012 Act has assisted in tackling sectarianism?
The Committee expects to begin taking evidence on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill later this year.

How to submit written evidence

Before making a submission, please read the Scottish Parliament’s policy on treatment of written evidence. In line with that policy, submissions will normally be published on our website. We recognise that in some circumstances people may have reasons for preferring their evidence to be published anonymously. If you wish to do this, please make this request clear when submitting your evidence, and explain why you are making this request.

Please use the template below to prepare your written submission. Written submissions should be brief and typewritten in Word format (preferably no more than 6 sides of A4 in total). Very long submissions may be refused.

The deadline for receipt of written submissions is Friday 18 August 2017.

Owing to the timescales normally required for the processing and analysis of evidence, late submissions will only be accepted with the advance agreement of the clerk.

The Committee prefers to receive submissions electronically. These should be e-mailed to: justicecommittee@parliament.scot

You may also send a hard copy of written submissions to:
Justice Committee, Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP

We welcome written evidence in any language.

 
Further information

 
For further information about the Committee’s work on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill please contact the clerks by email at justicecommittee@parliament.scot or by phone on 0131 348 5220.