Scottish Government
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Sectarian and offensive behaviour

New laws to crack down on sectarian and other forms of hatred in Scotland should be in place in time for the new football season after Ministers introduced a draft Bill to the Scottish Parliament.

The legislation seeks to create two new offences relating to offensive behaviour that can incite religious, racial or other forms of hatred, in and around football grounds and on the internet.

If approved, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill will mean bigots will face up to five years in prison upon conviction and the possibility of a football banning order.

The Bill is being fast-tracked through the parliamentary process to ensure the new powers are in place in time for the new football season.

Community Safety and Legal Affairs Minister Roseanna Cunningham, who has responsibility for tackling setarianism, said:

"Racism, bigotry and sectarianism are not welcome in Scotland, it is totally unacceptable, and those who perpetuate this hatred will be punished through the full force of the law.

"These new laws will send out a clear message that there is no place for bigots in a modern-day Scotland.

"From the start of the new season, anyone who peddles sectarian hatred - in any football stadium in Scotland, on the way to or from a game, or hiding behind a computer screen - could now face up to five years in jail.

"The events of last season were unprecedented and they need to be met with an unprecedented response.

"Actions which are threatening, offensive and which incite hatred and public disorder simply cannot be allowed to happen again. That is why this Government is taking decisive and immediate action to ensure law enforcement agencies have the additional tools in their armoury to crack down upon these individuals with full force.

"However, clearly laws alone won't solve this problem and convictions should be the last resort. We need a wholesale change in attitudes amongst those who spout offensive or threatening rhetoric in the name of football. And these new laws need to be supplemented by a united effort on behalf of all involved in football, from the football clubs, fans, police, government, and the football authorities. That is why the Joint Action Group is working to deliver upon the eight commitments agreed at the Football Summit in March. Along with the Bill, this will bring about real and lasting change.

"This legislation is just the start, we are in this for the long term, and we will not hesitate to bring forward further action over the five year parliamentary term if required.

"If we are to rid Scotland of sectarianism, we need to come together as a country and I hope that MSPs from all sides will support this Bill as it progresses through the parliamentary process.

"Sectarianism has huge consequences for individuals who are threatened, major consequences for communities, and it undermines the very fabric of a Scotland that we want to be tolerant, respectful and forward looking.

"Sectarianism is a hate crime, it has got to stop, and it will stop."

Definitions

OFFENSIVE BEHAVIOUR

Intended to deal with sectarian and other offensive chanting and threatening behaviour likely to cause public disorder. The offence covers behaviour likely to lead to public disorder:

  • Expressing or inciting religious, racial or other forms of hatred
  • Threatening behaviour or behaviour which would be offensive to any reasonable person
  • Covers behaviour at and on the way to or from a 'regulated football match', which includes league, European and international matches.
  • Definition based on football banning orders (FBO) legislation, which means there is the potential for an FBO to be imposed in every case
  • Also covers anywhere a match is being broadcast in a public place, and travel to and from such places
  • Covers a wide range of behaviours with appropriate penalties up to a maximum of 5 years in prison and an unlimited fine

THREATENING COMMUNICATIONS

Intended to deal with threats of serious harm and threats which incite religious hatred.

  • Threats of serious harm intended to cause fear and alarm, or reckless as to whether they do. This includes implied threats (e.g. the posting of bullets or images depicting serious harm)
  • Threats intended to incite religious hatred
  • It is a defence that the behaviour was in the situation 'reasonable ' -intended to exclude artistic performance etc
  • Maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and an unlimited fine

The offence will NOT:

  • Stop peaceful preaching or proselytising
  • Restrict freedom of speech including the right to criticise or comment on religion or non-religious beliefs, even in harsh terms
  • Criminalise jokes and satire about religion or non-religious belief

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