Football Act detractors vindicated as Holyrood repeals controversial law

Sheriff Richard Davidson

MSPs voted to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act yesterday by 62 votes to 60.

All four opposition parties backed Labour MSP James Kelly’s bill to scrap the act, which has been dogged by controversy.

Its detractors said it unfairly targets football fans and was never needed as police and prosecutors already had adequate powers to deal with sectarian behaviour.

They also said the legislation is poorly drafted, leaving the phrase “offensive behaviour” too open to interpretation.

In 2013, Sheriff Richard Davidson, sitting at Dundee Sheriff Court, said of the act: “Somehow the word mince comes to mind.”

Writing about the legislation in 2016, Brian McConnachie QC said: “The act turns the police from being the custodians of public order to officers looking to discover the crime of offensive behaviour.”

He added: “It is an act which invites people to be offended and tells them what it is they are to be offended by. The laws which existed before the act adequately covered any situation where the peace was indeed likely to be breached. The act is unfair, unnecessary and unworkable.”

Community safety minister Annabelle Ewing said the repeal of the act was “deeply disappointing and worrying”.

She added: “This move sends out an appalling signal, suggests that the law is going to be soft on antisocial conduct by bigots and bullies and will compromise the ability of police and prosecutors to charge people for unacceptable behaviour. The removal of the section 6 offence also puts Scotland behind the rest of the UK in terms of protection against religious hatred.

“The Scottish government will, of course, respect the will of Parliament but will also continue to work towards ridding Scottish society of the scourge of religious bigotry and prejudice and I look forward to Lord Bracadale’s review of hate crime, due in the coming months. However, it’s a great pity that we must proceed without this additional tool to hold perpetrators of sectarian hatred to account.”

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