Celtic fans back scrapping of '˜unjust' Football Act

A leading supporters' group has backed the scrapping of the controversial Football Act describing it as 'unjust' and saying it has 'soured' relationships between fans and police.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2012. Picture: Stephen Mansfield/TSPL

The Celtic Trust described the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act as “one of the worst pieces of legislation ever drafted in this country”.

The Scottish Parliament’s justice committee is currently consulting on legislation which would repeal the act brought in following the Old Firm “shame game” between Rangers and Celtic in 2011.

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Opposition parties have united behind a bid by Labour’s James Kelly to scrap the legislation. However, the Scottish Government argues the act gives police and prosecutors the power to tackle offensive and threatening behaviour in and around grounds.

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Scrapping Offensive Behaviour Football act '˜would be historic'

In a submission to the justice committee, the Celtic Trust said: “The Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is discriminatory, unjust, contradictory and badly drafted.

“It is in fact one of the worst pieces of legislation ever to have been passed in this country. It has completely soured relationships between those who attend football matches and the police and this is particularly worrying Because the victims of this Act have been in the main young men who now no longer have any trust in or respect for the police.

“It can also be argued that police officers themselves have suffered because of this Act in that they are being ordered to pursue situations in the context of football matches very differently from how they would deal with the same situation in any other context.”

The supporters’ group said the legislation had resulted in “law-abiding citizens” being “drawn into” the criminal justice system. It added: “The amount of police and court time which has been given to unnecessarily pursuing citizens under this act is disgraceful and the money wasted must be astronomical, taking up time and resources which could and should have been used to pursue real offenders and criminals.”

According to the Scottish Government, the legislation was used 377 times in 2016-17.

Opponents of the law say it is poorly written, unnecessary in light of existing legislation and unfairly targets football fans.

But Victim Support Scotland said it was against the repeal of the legislation.

In its submission to the justice committee, it said: “VSS is opposed to the repeal of the 2012 Act unless there is a viable alternative to support victims of threatening communication and religious prejudice. However, we agree that laws should be rational and enforceable.

“We believe repeal of section 6 (of the act) would leave an unacceptable gap in Scottish legislative protection for victims of religious prejudice.

“There is no alternative specific offence in Scots Law which criminalises threats made with the intention to incite religious hatred.”