New anti-sectarian laws branded a success as high prosecution rate revealed

The new bill was met with protests before it was introduced
The new bill was met with protests before it was introduced
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PROSECUTORS have insisted controversial anti-sectarian laws are working after new figures revealed 34 people have been convicted since the powers came into force.

The Crown Office said Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation has been well used, with 89 per cent of cases reported to them being prosecuted.

And of those which got to court, 83 per cent – 34 out of 41 – ended in a conviction.

However, despite the laws coming into force in March, no-one has yet been convicted under the threatening communications part of the act, which is covered in section six.

That was designed to tackle hate crime posted online in internet forums and social networking websites.

One case resulted in a non-conviction, while three are still going through the court process.

A further six have been passed on to prosecutors, but no decision has yet been made on whether they should be pursued.

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC said: “I am pleased to see this legislation is being used appropriately and to such good effect by the police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

“Attending football matches or simply supporting your team, wherever that may be, should be an enjoyable experience for all and should not be spoiled by the small minority.

“Football authorities and the clubs are playing their part to tackle the problem with such initiatives as show Racism and Bigotry the Red Card and we will continue working with them, police and other agencies, adopting a zero-tolerance approach to those who are involved in promoting sectarianism, religious offences and football-related disorder and violence of any kind.”

Section one of the offensive behaviour at football laws cover bigotry and hatred at grounds, on the way to matches, and in venues showing football, such as pubs and bars.

The figures, which include some released through Freedom of Information, show a decrease in incidents this season compared to last.

In August and September, there were 22 and 28 incidents of offensive behaviour at football reported to the Crown Office. That compared to 39 in March, 45 in April, and 47 in May, before incidents tailed off in the close season.

A total of 188 incidents have been reported in total.

The laws remain controversial with critics insisting the crimes they cover were already dealt with through breach of the peace.

Brian McConnachie QC said: “I think the legislation as a whole was very much a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“My view has always been that it is one of these easy pieces of legislation to bring in, because it appeared to be dealing with something in the public eye.

“But whether it dealt with something that needed dealing with was another matter. I think most people would be of the view that this was not a situation where there was crime going on which could not be prosecuted.”

While welcoming the figures, the Scottish Government was keen to stress it was taking a holistic approach to tackling sectarianism and bigotry.

A spokesman said: “Tackling bigotry isn’t just about legislation or just about football, which is why we’re investing £9 million over the next three years to help organisations take forward wider work to tackle sectarianism.

“And only last month, we appointed a new independent expert group to help advise on current and future policies to eradicate sectarianism in Scotland, chaired by Dr Duncan Morrow.”