Holyrood committee backs repeal of Offensive Behaviour at Football Act

Written by Jenni Davidson on 18 January 2018 in News

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has backed James Kelly’s repeal bill at stage one

Scottish Parliament - Image credit: Holyrood

A bid to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act has been given the backing of the Holyrood committee charged with scrutinising it.

A majority of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has given its support to Labour MSP James Kelly’s member’s bill to repeal the act, which aimed to tackle football-related sectarianism.

The committee was split across party lines, with Conservative, Labour, Green and Lib Dem members supporting Kelly’s repeal bill, while SNP members opposed the repeal.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act was passed by the SNP government in 2012 at a time when it had a majority in the Scottish Parliament without the support of opposition parties.

The other parties vowed last year to support Kelly’s bill to overturn the legislation after the SNP became at minority government in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.

While condemning sectarian behaviour, the majority of committee members concluded that the original act is flawed and that other laws already deal with the behaviours it criminalises. 

With a majority of the committee backing the Kelly’s bill at stage one, it will now progress through the Scottish Parliament, where it may be amended, before a final parliamentary debate and vote. 

The Justice Committee also made a number of other unanimous recommendations that would apply whether or not the act is repealed.

These include an appeal to the Scottish Government to define sectarianism in law and to bring forward amendments to clear up some of the uncertainty if the current act is kept.

Committee Convener Margaret Mitchell MSP, said: “Whether the act is finally repealed or not, the message that came through from the vast majority of witnesses was that this legislation needs to be changed.

“While there is disagreement over the best way to proceed, the committee is united in its desire to have laws that help the police and prosecutors to clamp down on unacceptable behaviour.

“However, it is vitally important that our laws actually improve relationships between various groups within society, including law enforcement and sports fans.

“The bill will now proceed to its next stage, with a majority of members supporting it.”

James Kelly said he was pleased the committee had voted in favour of his repeal.

He commented: “The reason for the committee backing repeal is the weight of evidence against the football act.

 “From day one, the Scottish Government pushed through this botched legislation to make it look like ministers were taking action on sectarianism, despite it being made crystal clear at the time that the football act was not a viable law.

 “The unfortunate reality is the football act has completely failed to do anything ministers promised.

“Its only achievement is breaking down trust between fans and the police.

 “The SNP has the opportunity to wake up to the mess they have created, back my bill to repeal the football act and instead look again at worthwhile methods to tackle sectarianism.”

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