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:
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to note that it was confirmed that football matches could be policed safely in the absence of this legislation if it is repealed.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.