Former First Minister hits out at lawyers and critics of anti-sectarianism legislation

Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond has criticised “clever-Dick” lawyers and sheriffs, whom he refers to as “daft toffs”, for opposing legislation to tackle sectarianism at football matches that he brought in during his tenure as First Minister.

Writing for the Press and Journal this week, Mr Salmond said the offence of breach of the peace was unable to catch individuals behaving offensively because “clever-Dick” lawyers could argue there was no offence where everyone was chanting.

He said: “This could not stand and thus was born the Offensive Behaviour and Football Matches Act. The act wasn’t designed to be popular and at first it wasn’t. Organised groups of fans opposed it, apparently believing it was aimed at them, but somehow not at their rivals.”

Speaking about opposition to the act, he wrote: “Even some Scottish sheriffs weren’t happy with the legislation and used their freedom to say so in court, claiming that it would be unworkable.

“Most of these daft toffs on the bench thought football was just rugger by another name. In fact, the act was immediately successful in obtaining convictions and then improving behaviour.”

He cited an independent evaluation of the legislation and a YouGov poll which found that 83 per cent of Scots support legislation to tackle offensive behaviour at football and 80 per cent of those polled directly support the act.

However, a football fans’ organisation criticised the evaluation, citing figures showing low conviction rates for one of the new offences, with only 143 convictions from the 664 charges made in relation to section 1 of the act since 2012.

The organisation also said it had submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request to access the data collected in the preparation of the report.

It also claimed the evaluation did not constitute the independent review which the Scottish government has a statutory obligation to conduct.

Mr Salmond continued in his article: “No less than 80% of the public back the new law, including the vast majority of football fans. They know that things are changing for the better. In 2014-15, there were 193 charges under the act. This is a decrease of 6% on the 206 charges reported in 2013-14, and a reduction of 28% on the 267 reported in 2012-13.

“So here we are now, and what do the critics say? A few have the decency to admit they were wrong. A few accept that things are, indeed, improving. Most concentrated on the idea that the government should explicitly move away from custodial sentences, ignoring the fact that, in the last year, there has been only one.”

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