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Equalities charities caution hasty repeal of the Football Act

This news post is almost 7 years old

​A number of equalities charities have given evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee warning about concerns over the Football Act's repeal

A number of Scottish equality charities have claimed that the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act should not be scrapped unless there is a substantial replacement.

The Football Act has received criticism from Scottish Labour, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

In June, Labour’s James Kelly introduced a member’s bill to repeal the Football Act that was brought into law by the SNP in 2012 to tackle sectarian behaviour. Kelly ran a public consultation on his bill in which a clear majority of the respondents said they supported the bill’s repeal.

In response to this, the Scottish Parliament justice committee launched an inquiry into the Football Act, hearing from over 200 campaigners, football fans and charities, and most spoke against the act in its current form.

Human rights campaigners Liberty commented that: “The offences set out in the Act, however, extend the reach of the criminal law too far into the realm of free expression without offering meaningful additional protections”.

However, various charities expressed their cautious about a hasty repeal of the Act. Victim Support Scotland opposed a repeal without any “viable alternative to support victims of threatening communication and religious prejudice.”

The Equality Network also added its concern about the lack of a replacement for the Act, saying: “There is a significant risk that repealing the Act without considering what other measures should be in place could undermine work to tackle sectarianism and other abusive behaviour at football, by generating a message that some of that behaviour has been decriminalised and is therefore acceptable.

“If the Act is to be repealed, it will be vital to mitigate this risk by sending a very strong message that such behaviour remains unacceptable, and will remain criminal.”

James Kelly has continued to challenge the legislation: “The Football Act was a PR stunt pulled by a government abusing its majority at the time. It has failed to tackle sectarianism and simply served to draw a line between fans and the police, reversing years of progress.”

The Scottish Government has defended the Act, calling it “a clear statement that no section of society is exempt from standards and behaviours that are considered acceptable.”

Evidence was also given from individuals and organisations such as Stonewall Scotland and The Celtic Trust.