The report at Stage 2 on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill published today by the Justice Committee shows that five members support the two new offences being proposed, while four do not think the case has been made strongly enough.
The majority of the committee agreed 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."
Justice Committee members who supported the Bill are:
- Christine Grahame MSP
- Roderick Campbell MSP
- John Finnie MSP
- Colin Keir MSP
- Humza Yousaf MSP.
The Justice Committee members who dissented on the Bill are:
- James Kelly MSP
- John Lamont MSP
- Alison McInnes MSP
- Graeme Pearson MSP.
The report also raises further points, including:
- The committee would like to know what other non-legislative action the Government is planning in light of the Government’s acknowledgement that this Bill is not a solution to Scotland’s sectarian problem.
- The committee notes the important role the media play in reporting on Scottish football and hopes that the media use this power responsibly.
- The committee would welcome the inclusion of a review clause on the Bill, which would allow the effects of the legislation to be assessed at an appropriate juncture.
- The committee looks to the Scottish Government to clarify exactly what resources and training and being provided to law-enforcement services to deal with online crime.
A committee debate on the report at Stage 2 is expected to take place in the Chamber in early November. The Bill will then return to the Justice Committee for line by line scrutiny at Stage 2.
The Bill was 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.