June 23 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

47-SCOTTISH-PARLIAMENT

Legal challenge to bill on football sentencing

Bid to slow Scottish Government down after mounting concerns that Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill is being rushed through today

The Scottish Government’s bid to hurry through legislation to increase prison sentencing to a maximum of five years for offensive and sectarian behaviour by football fans ahead of the new season faces a legal challenge.

As MSPs prepare to vote in the Scottish Parliament today for the first time on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill, the Christian Institute and CARE for Scotland have raised legal action in the Court of Session in Edinburgh to ‘put the brakes on the Scottish Government’s lightning-fast timetable for a Bill to tackle sectarian hatred.’

They groups, represented in court by in court by Aidan O’Neill QC, raised the action in response to widespread concern that the Scottish Government is moving too fast, ignoring its responsibility to consult. If they are successful, the court could declare that the lack of consultation and the rushed timetable are unlawful and order the Government to slow down.

Responses

The legal action follow responses to the Justice Committee indicating that legislation to govern offensive and sectarian behaviour by football fans in stadiums, pubs and online should not be rushed.

“Swift action aimed at overcoming offending behaviour and preventing deterioration of the situation can be indicated, but suitable caution must be observed in order to ensure that laws are not introduced with undue haste and that they have been ascertained to be at an appropriate and necessary level,” Bishop Philip Tartaglia told the committee on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.

A spokesman for Celtic Football Club said: “We have not been given anything like sufficient opportunity to scrutinise the legal or practical effects of the proposed legislation or the questions and issues arising.

“We would urge that adequate time be provided for deliberation of this Bill and its effects. Rushed legislation is rarely competent legislation. We believe it is better to have it right rather than rushed, and it is clear that this view is shared widely by many others.”

The new owner of Rangers FC, Craig Whyte, has denied the club had a problem with sectarian singing and warned First Minister Alex Salmond not to single the club out in the latest proposals to combat sectarianism and to be ‘very careful’ how proposed measures are enforced.

Reach of the bill

In spite of attempts by Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham, who is fronting the bill, to define and limit its scope, concern remains as to whether it is too far reaching.

“There may be occasions where [fans] make the Sign of the Cross—perhaps with malicious intent,” Peter Kearney, director of the Catholic Media Office, said. “Even so, I would be very wary of suggesting that either the police or our criminal justice system are equipped to differentiate in such circumstances. The same applies to flying the Union flag or the Saltire.

“Ultimately, the misuse or otherwise of a religious symbol may only be possible to determine by an examination of the conscience of the person who made that sign or symbol. I sincerely hope no one is suggesting that you can examine a person’s conscience in a police cell or in a Scottish court.”

Independent panel

As the Scottish Government prepares to legislate on football fans’ behaviour in light of events last season surrounding bomb threats to prominent Celtic fans and an attack on Celtic Manager Neil Lennon, the Scottish Football Association is taking step of it own. Independent ‘jurors’ will sit in judgment on Scottish football’s bad boys from next season, according to the SFA.

Stewart Regan, SFA’s chief executive made, the announcement when detailing of his plans to modernise the association’s disciplinary system, which was at the root of so much controversy last season.

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