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Scots hate law

The much-disputed Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 came into force on March 1. The aim of the ruling SNP has been to stamp out offensive and religious hatred at football. 


According to the Scottish Nationalists the legislation responded to calls from Scotland’s police and prosecutors and gives them additional tools to crack down on sectarian songs and abuse at and around football matches and threats posted on the internet or through the mail. However critics have already pointed out there are public order laws and have queried quite how the authorities can enforce the law if broken for instance in a football stadium. Critics also asked where the line would be drawn between freedom of expression and saying something criminal.  

The Act creates two new distinct offences, punishable through a range of penalties up to a maximum five-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine:

 ·    The first offence targets any hateful, threatening or otherwise offensive behaviour expressed at and around football matches which is likely to cause public disorder.

 ·    The second offence relates to the communication of threats of serious harm or which are intended to stir up religious hatred, whether sent by post or posted on the internet.

Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Roseanna Cunningham said: “The overwhelming majority of football fans who have been supporting their teams in the true spirit of the game for years have absolutely nothing to fear from this legislation.  In fact it is designed to improve their experience, ensuring they can focus on football and not be distracted by the mindless, hateful prejudices of a small minority. 

“This legislation will have no impact on the banter and passionate support that goes hand in hand with supporting football teams.  It is not about discouraging the competition and rivalry that is the lifeblood of football, it is about eradicating sectarianism and other unacceptable expressions of hate from our national game. 

“We listened to Scotland’s police and prosecutors when they told us they needed greater powers to take a hard line on sectarianism at football and threats of harm being posted on the internet. These new laws make it very clear that religious hatred will no longer be tolerated and there should be no mistake that those who promote sectarianism will feel the full force of the law. 

“I think we have already made progress around the kind of behaviour that is deemed acceptable at and around football matches and this legislation cements the message about the kind of Scotland we want to live in – bigots have no place in modern Scotland. 

“The majority of Scots, 91 per cent, supported tougher action to tackle sectarianism.  I am under no illusion, this legislation will not be the one-stop solution to all our problems and that is why I recently announced £9 million over the next three years to continue work to tackle sectarianism across society.  Attitudes change over time and this marks the beginning of the end of the shame that has blighted our glorious game for too long.”


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