FAC comment on Justice Committe Evidence session

Fans Against Criminalisation are grateful to have had the opportunity, as part of the Stage 1 evidence gathering process, to address yesterday’s meeting of the Justice Committee at the Scottish Parliament and to present our case in support of James Kelly’s Bill for the repeal of the hated Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

The video of the session can be found  here:

Justice Committee evidence session 3/10/17

We were present to hear the arguments made by Police Scotland and the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service and were happy to note that it was confirmed that football matches could be policed safely in the absence of this legislation if it is repealed. We would also note once again the opinion of The Law Society who are clear that repealing section 1 would not leave a gap in law, and the point made by James Kelly that the minimal use of section 6 demonstrates that Fiscals clearly do not have any faith in this law to bring about the convictions which they seek for what they deem to be online offences.

The fans panel were united in opposing any piece of legislation which only applies to football supporters. We would also like to re-iterate our stance that broadening the legislation to apply it to other sectors of society would also be wrong as to criminalise something as subjective as offensive would present a huge threat to people’s right to freedom of expression and thus our democracy as a whole.

We raised a number of arguments in our written submission and our oral evidence. In addition, we were asked by the Committee to provide additional clarification in relation to the calculation of conviction rates which we have consistently said are much lower than the headline numbers quoted by the government each year. We will provide this evidence plus further evidence to back up our contention that Procurator Fiscals working in Sheriff Courts are prevented from exercising normal discretion in the handling of charges under the Offensive Behaviour Act; are forced to seek permission from Senior Fiscals and are rarely allowed to drop cases even when the prospects of a successful conviction are slim.

The arguments have been set out. This Act was ill-advised and is frighteningly illiberal. This Act was unjustifiable and is now entirely unworkable. In theory this piece of legislation is draconian and discriminatory and should worry all citizens of Scotland. In practice, this Act has ruined lives and will continue to do so. It is time for the Scottish Parliament to repeal this catastrophic piece of legislation as quickly as possible.

 

FAC reps off to Holyrood next Tuesday!

Next Tuesday (3rd October) sees another milestone in the campaign when FAC reps will appear before the Justice Committee to give evidence on why the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 should be repealed.  This is the start of a series of sessions at the Committee’s regular Tuesday meetings when Parliament is in session to scrutinise James Kelly MSP’s repeal bill.

On Tuesday at 10am the Police Service of Scotland will give their evidence and this will be followed at around 11.15 by the two FAC representatives, together with representatives from Supporters Direct Scotland and the Scottish Football Supporters Association.

If you wish to follow this live you can do this via the Parliament TV channel by searching under the Justice Committee:

Scottish Parliament TV

The recording can be accessed on the site afterwards if you wish to watch it later instead of live.

ACC Higgins: uniformed or uninformed?

“Police Scotland’s purpose is to improve the safety and wellbeing of people, places and communities in Scotland.  Our focus is on Keeping People Safe which is at the heart of everything that we do”[1].

 “It is arguable that the essence of the general equality duty is to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. This is at the heart of the strategic aims of police reform, namely to:

  •  Strengthen the connection between services and communities”[2]

Police Scotland have an important job to do. Administering the law and keeping communities safe is no easy task. Additionally developing relationships with an ever changing demographic takes time and requires trust.

The General Equality duties acknowledged by Police Scotland as their fundamental guiding principles however are entirely incompatible with their use of the ‘Act’.

In an astonishing sequence of media comments Assistant Chief Constable Higgins has let the cat out the bag.

The “regression” in behaviour ACC Higgins alludes too in relation to “offensiveness” contextualises perfectly the abnormality of this legislation and the role of Police Scotland in placing officers and young people with no previous criminal convictions at loggerheads.

None of this is possible in relation to the Act without the stubborn support of their political allies, the current office bearers of the Scottish Government.

Of course it also beneficial to have the additional support of the Crown office in a “criminal” law dogfight and in this current scenario we can see the beautiful confluence of executive, crown and police working as a single unit.

This is underdog challenge that provides a perfect footballing analogy. Organised individual citizen’s vs the tripartite of the Police, Executive and Crown Office. Not since the sloping out cases or Cadder has the Scottish Executive/Government dangled on the precipice of such a broad ranging human rights embarrassment. Of course the current Scottish Government, who provide the strategy at the head of this moral “anti-offensive” tripartite, are quick to remind us of the Acts ECHR/HRA compatibility.

For the moment we can set aside the fact that parliamentary scrutiny of the ‘Act’ at Bill stage was conducted against the backdrop of an executive partisan majority in a parliament devoid of a human rights committee.

We can begin to appreciate, however, that an Act which provides a ‘breath-taking expansion of the criminal Law’ (Liberty’s submission to the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament, August 2017 and empowers ACC Higgins’ band of anthropologists, sociologists, historians and political scientists on the beat, is in Police Scotland’s interest. It certainly makes their life “easier” in the short term. Our campaign proves however that, medium to long term, it will be met by a vociferous defence of football fans and young people.

Much like the infamous slopping out cases, or Cadder, the elements of a serious mistake are presenting themselves again. A maligned, crudely interpreted group of people, in this case football fans, mostly under 30 and almost exclusively with no previous interaction with the criminal justice system are being forced to navigate uncertain legislative territory with almost no power. Time will tell how this plays out and where the ‘cup final’ is played. The game is live in the Parliament and the Courts.

We have rattled the “moralistic” troika to the extent that Chief Social Scientist Higgins warns of grave outbreaks of “offensiveness” if his own subordinates are not allowed to retain the power to assess “subjective offense” to potentially imaginary people.

In truth the tripartite know they have already lost the battle for ‘hearts and minds’. Individual police officers have told us, COPFS staff have told us, and believe it or not MSP’s of a certain constitutional persuasion have told us, off the record of course, “it’s a disaster” – “I avoid using it at all costs”. In time we’ll share some additional ‘match procedure’ Information covering the policing of football fans which mentions every piece of legislation under the sun, bar astonishingly, the ‘Act’. Don’t take our word for it though. The comments of sheriffs are in the public domain.

What is happening now will illuminate to those who are victims of the Act, or who take an interest in equality, to what extent the tripartite will sacrifice otherwise law-abiding young citizens to save political face.

So directly to ACC Higgins and the tripartite, the story here is not your assertion that so called ‘offensive’ signing will increase but, instead, how senior public servants – such as ACC Higgins –  feel empowered, beyond meaningful scrutiny, to identify, articulate and advocate for substantial power based upon an unquantifiable variable. Power which contradicts your own guiding principles.

Hopefully the penny is beginning to drop for anyone who takes an interest in maintaining an effective democracy.

The Act has zero credibility. It needs to be repealed. Anything short of that is window dressing.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.scotland.police.uk/about-us/

[2]http://www.scotland.police.uk/assets/pdf/foidocuments/diversityandequalityinpolicescotlandreportfinal?view=Standard

FAC submission to the Justice Committee

Fans Against Criminalisation are happy to announce that our submission to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee’s call for evidence regarding the bill in motion for the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 has now been published on the Parliament’s website.

FAC submission to Justice Committee

We would like to thank the organisations who have responded to this consultation with honesty and integrity. The evidence provided is clear. The Law Society and the Glasgow Bar Association are adamant that this is poorly drafted legislation and that the repeal of it would leave no gap in law. BEMIS, a foremost advocate of ethnic minority rights in Scotland make it clear that this Act represents a risk to ethnic minority rights. CRER, a prominent race equality group have advanced similar views. Liberty, the UK’s most reputable civil liberties advocacy group have been damning in their indictment of this law as being a grave threat to civil liberties in Scotland. The figures cited by Supporters Direct Scotland unequivocally demonstrates that football supporters are vastly opposed to this Act. Individual responses from academics highlight the theoretical problems with the legislation whilst submissions from normal fans have indicated the real life impact that this has had. Numerous individual responses from football fans give powerful testimony to the impact of this badly thought out, poorly implemented and wholly unnecessary Act.

This law is illiberal, irresponsible and irredeemable. People’s lives have been ruined as a result of it.

On the side of the Scottish Government in defending this Act are several government-funded groups who have opted to weigh in on the debate despite a clear lack of understanding of the impact that this legislation has had.  Their minimal, or total lack of, engagement with the community who are impacted by this Act is obvious in the quality of their submissions. Furthermore, we are not in the least bit surprised that the Government has once again sought to mislead the public in their defence of this law, this time by misrepresenting the views of several quoted figures. They have simply no credibility left on this issue. It is time for them to accept the will of the Scottish people and the will of the Scottish Parliament and withdraw their opposition to this bill.

It is time to axe the Act.

FAC finally get to submit their evidence to MSPs

For six years we have been asking MSPs to listen to us about the potential, and then actual, effects of the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.  To their credit, all opposition parties have individually listened to us.  Today, however, we were finally able to submit our written evidence in full and we now look forward to being invited to give evidence in person when the Justice Committee holds their hearings in September/October.

Fans Against Criminalisation evidence on Offensive_Behaviour_Repeal_Bill August 2017

This is an important day in the progress towards the final demise of this hated legislation  You can also see here the submissions received by other individuals and organisations, many of which are extremely interesting.  These will be updated as more submissions are received over the course of today.

Submissions received by the Justice Committee

Once again we thank everyone who has worked so hard to get us this far….but don’t take your foot off the pedal yet!  If you haven’t submitted evidence then do so now!

The proforma can be found here:

http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/105570.aspx

This should be filled in, however briefly, and returned to JusticeCommittee@parliament.scot before 5pm today (Friday 18th August 2017).

Onwards and upwards!

 

How to submit evidence to the Justice Committee re repeal of the OB Act

If you are planning to submit evidence to the Justice Committee by 18th August – and we would strongly encourage you to do so – then you might find the template and guidance below useful.  The template sets out the questions and the kinds of answers required.  At the bottom of the page are details of how to submit your evidence (remember to delete this from the document before you actually send it.)

The responses will be published on the Justice Committee’s website but if you have particular reasons for giving your evidence anonymously then you can indicate that on your submission.

Offensive_Behaviour_Repeal_Bill_-_proforma_for_written_evidence guidance July 2017

 

Justice Committee Evidence Gathering begins today!

Following the introduction of the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour Bill by James Kelly MSP last week, the Justice Committee appears to have got off to a flying start by beginning the evidence-gathering activity which constitutes Stage 1 of the process….yes, dear reader, we are now at Stage 1!

Justice Committee Call for Evidence

The call for written submissions will run from today until Friday 18th August 2017 after which there will be a number of Committee sessions where groups and  individuals will be invited to give evidence in person.  For those of you who have long memories, this is the same process that was used in  2011 when the original Offensive Behaviour Bill (then Act) was makings its own way through the system.

The format of the written submissions are similar to those used in the public consultation carried out by James Kelly before introducing his repeal bill.  If you made a submission to his consultation – and very large numbers of you did – then please do so again.  Your views expressed at that time will not be taken into account unless you submit evidence to the Justice Committee between now and August.

There is a template document which you can use to guide you and your evidence is not expected to be very long – maximum 6 sides of A4 – but most will be considerably shorter.

Offensive_Behaviour_Repeal_Bill_-_proforma_for_written_evidence

We will post further information and guidance about this process over the next week or so but thanks again to everyone who has supported this campaign to date and please keep up the good work over this crucial period.  We are nearly there!

 

 

Appeal to Scottish Government: You got it wrong – Let it go and move on

For those of you who did not see the opinion piece written by FAC activist, Jeanette Findlay, about the introduction of the repeal bill, in yesterday’s (25/6/17) Sunday Herald, here it is in a slightly extended version:

The announcement on Thursday by James Kelly MSP that he had lodged his Private Members’ Bill to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, is the latest stage in the long-drawn out demise of this much-despised and dangerous piece of legislative folly. Backed by the results of the largest public consultation response ever received by the Scottish Parliament showing 71% support for repeal, Kelly hopes to guide the Act to oblivion before the end of 2017.
The Offensive Behaviour Act, known universally by football supporters as The Act (the words usually spat out in disgust), was introduced in 2012. It was introduced, as is often stated, following a bad-tempered game between Celtic FC and Rangers FC in March 2011 at which the managers had a bit of a ‘set to’.

While this is undoubtedly true in a chronological sense, there is no causal relationship here. The idea that this not uncommon scene was sufficient justification for a bespoke piece of legislation is frankly ludicrous. Neither was the Act, which has impacted calamitously on the lives of thousands of football supporters (or as they are sometimes known, citizens), introduced to deal with a documented problem in Scottish football. The Scottish Government’s own statistics make it clear that that the rate of offending of any kind which takes place in football stadia was, and is, miniscule. I once amused myself by calculating the proportion of hate crimes which take place in a football ground and those taking place in society at large as a proportion of the relevant populations. I was not all that surprised to learn that Scottish citizens in general are 50 times more likely to commit hate crimes than those who, for the purposes of the data, are designated as football supporters. Indeed, I have often thought that many people are far more likely to be at risk in their own livingrooms than at any football ground that I have attended.

The true explanation for the introduction of this legislation lies much more in timing (coming, as it did, in the run-up to the 2011 election and two weeks after former First Minister Jack McConnell baited the then FM, Alex Salmond, about the issue of sectarianism); budget cuts (in response to which the newly appointed Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, Stephen House, strategically and successfully targeted the Government’s anti-sectarian funding pot as well as the top job in the new Police Service of Scotland); and yes, personalities – House, Salmond and the then Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill would struggle to fit their combined egos into a detached villa in one of Edinburgh’s more affluent areas. The then Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, not only failed to offer wise legal counsel against the draft Bill, but he became its public face giving numerous bravura defences of the Bill/Act in press and television interviews. He even famously told STV’s Bernard Ponsonby that an ‘Irish republican identity’ could be unlawful under the proposed legislation! He was probably correct given the broad scope of the legislation which effectively made unlawful the offending in any way of any person, present or otherwise; aware of the action or not, in the context of a regulated football match ie in attendance, going to or from, during an overnight stop, in Scotland or outwith Scotland, in possession of a match ticket or not; or even while in a public house in which a game was being shown! The Act was and is the football equivalent of the old Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch in which racism was parodied by showing a police officer arresting a man for being in possession of thick lips and curly hair. Football fans became, by dint of simply being football fans, potential criminals.

Fans responded by forming a campaign, Fans Against Criminalisation (FAC), as soon as the idea was first mooted. The basis of our argument is that this legislation was poorly-drafted, unnecessary, illiberal and discriminatory, in that it could, and did, disproportionately target young (working class) men.

In the language of the National 5 Modern Studies syllabus – in which FAC has appeared for some years – we are an ‘outsider’ pressure group. This is, as I understand it, a function of our relationship with the government. Outsider pressure groups are those which are not ‘consulted by the government’. Given the repeated claim by spokespersons for the Scottish Government that the Act is there to protect football fans and to ensure that we can enjoy attending games in a suitable environment, you would think that our views on the Act would have been solicited by the government. But no, as even 14-year-old Scottish schoolchildren know, we are defined as being ‘not consulted’ and instead have had to rely on building support among the public. Luckily for us then, that the Scottish public, when properly consulted, agree in the overwhelming majority that the Act should go. They are joined by ‘insider’ groups such as the Law Society of Scotland, Liberty UK, the black and ethnic minority organisation BEMIS, anti-sectarian group Nil by Mouth, academics, children’s organisations and … well, every part of civic society except the Scottish Government and the Police Service of Scotland. I would imagine that even the latter must, by now, be wishing they had kept well away, given the near-irreparable damage that the Act has caused to the relationship between young football supporters and the police.

The consequences of the Act have been catastrophic for many people. Young people have lost out on jobs and promotions because of prosecution, far less conviction; some young trainee teachers and health service and other professionals have had to face the prospect of losing their entire careers before they had even started, for the same reason. For many, the fact that they were ultimately found Not Guilty (The Act has a very low conviction rate) did not mitigate the damage caused to them or the stress and anxiety which they and their families suffered. For every week that this Act remains on the statute book, more young people will suffer the same. In that context, it is disappointing that our Government, who are strong believers in the ‘will of the people’ and the ‘will of Parliament’, are still digging their heels in and refusing to accept the will of both people and parliament.

This Act will go – making history as it does as the first piece of legislation enacted by the Scottish Parliament to be repealed. In the words of James Kelly, the ‘parliamentary arithmetic’ makes that almost certain. As ‘outsiders’ we don’t, by definition, expect to be listened to by the Scottish Government but, just in case they are listening, I say this: the least you can do now is to allow the process to be completed without undue hindrance. You got it wrong. Let it go and move on.

 

 

Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill

To all those football fans and non-fans out there who, over the past 6 years, have emailed your MSP, attended surgeries, joined demonstrations, donated to the FAC Legal Defence Fund, took part in banner protests, dished out leaflets, sang songs of support or just showed solidarity to any fellow football fan caught up in this legal nightmare, please take a bow – it is not buried yet but it is in the hearse and on its way to the cemetery!

The Repeal Bill has been lodged today and the process of scrutinising it will take place early in the next Parliamentary session.  According to the sponsor of the Repeal Bill, James Kelly MSP, it is likely to be voted on before the end of this calendar year.  At that point we won’t be taking bows, we will be dancing in the streets!

Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communication (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill
Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communication (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill

The Repeal Bill repeals the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act – obviously – but it’s provisions also mean that anyone who has an unconcluded case will have those charges dropped and nobody can be charged under the Act after the repeal date even if the alleged behaviour took place before it.

Offensive Behaviour Act  (Repeal) Bill 2017

Our task now, which we will be taking up from the start of the new football season (so watch out for that), is to make sure that any attempt to thwart the will of the people and the parliament by unnecessarily delaying the progress of the Repeal Bill will be vigorously challenged.  The Government should be in no doubt, we intend to have the OB Act repealed and to do so as a matter of urgency.  The best thing for them  to do now is to acknowledge the mood of the people and the parliament and work with James Kelly to progress the Repeal Bill with no undue delay.

This has been a long and difficult campaign but we are in the home strait – please continue to support the campaign and to keep up your vocal and visible opposition to the OB Act until it is dead and buried and the dirt is tramped down!

 

 

 

The Story of Ms X

 

You may be aware that there have been considerable efforts by many people both inside the Scottish Parliament and out to get rid of the dreadful Offensive Behaviour Act once and for all.  You may also be aware that we have very high hopes that those efforts will bear fruit in the not too distant future.  However, while we wait for the day that football fans are treated the same under Scots law as every other citizen, the Police Service of Scotland and the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service are continuing with the appalling hounding of football fans using the OBFA and other pieces of legislation.

Cases which would never has seen the light of day in any other circumstance, except those which are deemed to be ‘football-related’, are prosecuted to the fullest extent. The impact on those caught up in this nightmarish legislation can be devastating. For that reason, we intend to keep our foot on the neck of the authorities until this stain on the reputation of Scotland is removed.  Here is just one of the reasons why.

So as not to identify her and cause her further hassle in her life and work, we will call the young woman Ms X. Ms X was arrested in November 2014 as she queued to enter a football stadium to support her team. In her own words, she picks up the tale:

I attended the game with my 2 cousins we joined the “queue” but it was chaos no organisation at all. A police officer shouted and gestured for my cousin and myself to get to the back of the queue which we duly did.  He then approached me and asked if I had been drinking to which I replied I had had a couple.  He then said I was “steamin” to which I responded I was not.  He then said he could arrest me and I said for what, at that point he said “that’s it hands behind your back!” 

As you can imagine, I was shocked but I did not react.  Both my cousin and myself asked under what legislation I had been arrested; we got no response. My cousin asked for their badge numbers and they refused.  I was then marched, in handcuffs, around the stadium which felt to me like the police were trying to make a show of me which was humiliating in itself and lets just say I was put in the back of the van not too gently! 

I was then taken to the police station and my DNA and finger prints were taken. I was released 3 hours later. Still to this point I did not know why I had been arrested as I was not charged at any point. 

When I received my court citation I was shocked as I did not think the police would do anything else.  However, I was even more taken aback when I read the charge sheet and summary of evidence. It stated that I was drunk trying to enter a football stadium. The evidence said that I was so drunk I was slurring my words, that I was singing into the face of a police horse; that I stumbled into the police officer: that I refused to desist from the stadium and that the officer felt threatened that I would become violent. 

After about 6 months they offered me the ‘chance’ to pay a fiscal fine.  I refused to do this as I was not going to admit to being guilty of something I did not do. 

After almost two and half years and four court appearances, my case was dismissed in court. I was told that ‘the procurator fiscal put her pen through it’. At each of the previous court dates, each of fiscals who were in court stated that they didn’t think the case should be in court but because it was football related they had no choice. Just to note, I have never been in a single bit of bother in my life. 

As well as the stress of appearing in court, I faced lengthy disciplinary proceedings at work which caused a lot of stress as I did not know how significant the proceedings would be.  I then received a warning from work for bringing my work into disrepute and for my conduct even though I was adamant I had done nothing wrong and was arrested unlawfully.  

The amount of stress this has caused my family and myself has been overwhelming. It affected my work, I didn’t want to go back to the football, I was very emotional and lost quite a lot of weight. I knew I had done nothing wrong but that seems to go for nothing when you are an ordinary person going to watch the football.

This story, terrible as it is, is not unusual and has been replicated up and down the country for five years now.  In the coming few months, FAC will be calling on you all to support various initiatives in support of the Repeal Bill as it proceeds through Parliament. Please remember the story of this young woman and do whatever you can to help. Next time it could be you or your daughter/sister/girlfriend/wife/friend.