JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill says new curbs aimed at clamping down on sectarianism at football matches and online are producing results.
Police and prosecutors were given additional powers on March 1 2012 to crack down on sectarian songs and abuse at football matches and threatening behaviour posted on the internet or via mail.
Kenny MacAskill said: “The charge and conviction rates for people arrested under this legislation show that it is working well.
“This legislation was introduced in response to Scotland’s police and prosecutors, who told us they needed greater powers to take a hard line on sectarianism associated with football.
“We have made clear that bigotry and religious hatred have no place in modern Scotland and we will stamp out on it wherever and whenever it occurs. The majority of Scots - 91% - supported tougher action to tackle the problem.
“The overwhelming majority of football fans are law abiding and want to enjoy the friendly rivalry that is part of any game without this being marred by the actions of a mindless minority.
“We are under no illusions - the problem of sectarianism isn’t just a football issue. That is why we are spending £9 million over the next three years on a range of projects to tackle sectarianism across society.”
In November Lord Advocate Frank Mullholland QC said 89% of cases reported under the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act had been prosecuted, with a conviction rate of 83%.
Punishments under the act include long-term football banning orders.
Mr MacAskill’s praise for the legislation comes after lawyers raised concerns over the way it is being implemented.
Paul Kavanagh of legal firm Gildeas told the Herald newspaper: “It is correct for people who sing sectarian songs or shout sectarian abuse to be arrested and processed through the courts. However, what about a person displaying a banner that is not sectarian in any way, simply walking to a football match and being told to provide his name and address to police for no apparent reason, or walking down the street with his family and being spoken to by the police as they recognised him at a football match? Where is their right to privacy? Where is the crime?
“Innocent people are being criminalised for things which are not criminal, purely because of the interpretation and implementation of the legislation.”
The Government said it is commissioning an independent evaluation of the legislation to meet a parliamentary requirement and six research organisations are involved in the tender for the work.
Figures from the first year of the act are still being collated and analysed and will be published at the end of the football season, the Government added.