Scotland politics

Committee calls for views on Football Act repeal bid

Fans at a rally Image copyright PA
Image caption Football supporters, including the Fans Against Criminalisation group, have staged rallies against the act

A Scottish parliament committee is seeking views from the public on a bid to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Labour MSP James Kelly has tabled a members' bill aiming to have the "illiberal" act scrapped, claiming it does nothing to tackle sectarianism.

All opposition parties support the move and defeated the government in a prior debate on the topic at Holyrood.

The justice committee is studying the plan and wants input from the public.

Ministers say repealing the act without a viable alternative would "send entirely the wrong message".

Repeal bid

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act (OBFA) became law in 2012, carried by the votes of the SNP's then-majority government, despite opposition from all other parties.

After the SNP lost its majority in the 2016 election, opposition members immediately moved to have the bill repealed, maintaining that it is poorly written, unnecessary in light of existing legislation and unfairly targets football fans.

Mr Kelly brought forward a member's bill aiming for total repeal, saying ministers were "simply out of touch".

He added: "The Football Act is now well into injury time as organisations prepare to go before MSPs and explain the damage this act is doing. It's time Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP listened to the public and repealed this bad law."

Image copyright Getty Images

As one of the first steps in the legislative process, the justice committee is gathering views on the repeal bid.

They have posed questions including whether people agree with repealing the act, whether it has been successful in tackling sectarianism and whether repeal would "create a gap in our laws".

Convener Margaret Mitchell said: "The act has aroused strong and opposing views about its necessity and effectiveness. The justice committee is keen to hear the full range of opinions about this significant proposal to remove a law from the statute books."

'Hateful and prejudicial'

The government has defended the legislation, arguing that opponents have not put forward alternative measures.

Community Safety Minister Annabel Ewing said "hateful and prejudicial behaviour associated with football" and "online threats of violence and hatred" continued to be a problem.

She told MSPs: "Repealing the 2012 Act in the absence of a viable alternative will send entirely the wrong message to the public - that expressions of prejudice and hatred at football matches are somehow condoned and decriminalised.

"This government stands on the side of the tens of thousands of football fans throughout Scotland who simply want to go to a football math with their family and friends and not be surrounded by tainted, prejudicial and hateful behaviour."

Ms Ewing added that Labour's "strange set of priorities" in wanting the legislation repealed showed "contempt" for people "targeted by hateful, prejudicial and abusive behaviour".

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