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Stonewall Scotland say Act repeal could “send very negative signal” to LGBT communities

Members of the Scottish Parliament have been hearing evidence on why the Offensive behaviour at Regulated Football Matches Act should be repealed. The Act was brought forward in response to a number of controversial incidents associated mostly with the Rangers and Celtic football clubs during the 2010/11 season.

Introduced by Kenny MacAskill MSP on 16 June 2011, the Bill received Royal Assent on 19 January 2012 and included behaviours: “expressing hatred of, or stirring up hatred against, a group of persons based on their membership (or presumed membership) of a religious group, a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation.

Or a groups defined by “colour, race, nationality (including citizenship, ethnic or national origins), sexual orientation, transgender identity and disability.”

Labour MSP James Kelly  brought forward a Member’s Bill to repeal the Act on the basis that the legislation is: “flawed on several levels, including its illiberal nature and its failure to tackle sectarianism, and the fact that there is already pre-existing legislation in place to deal with the behaviour covered by the Act”.

Stonewall Scotland’s Colin Macfarlane agreed that it was time for the Act to be reviewed, but cautioned a repeal would “send a very negative signal to LGBT people”.

“Our view is that it sends a very clear message, that offensive behaviour at football is not acceptable. LGBT people tell us that that’s one area of sport where they don’t feel safe or secure – whether that’s from chanting or singing or comments that are made on the stands.

“Our view is that repealing the act without other measures in place could undermine work that’s been done to increase LGBT people’s confidence not only in reporting hate crime but also in attending sporting events like football.

“Nothing should happen until the hate crime review has reported back.”

More than 200 submissions from organisations and individuals were received by the justice committee. One, sent by the Law Society of Scotland prior to the new Bill being brought forward, stated the Law Society:

“Remain of the view that offensive behaviour related to public disorder is likely to be caught by the substantive criminal law which was in existence prior to the 2012 Act and remains in force now.”

Sacro, a Scottish community justice organisation, told the committee it supported Kelly’s Bill, stating in a written submission to the committee:

“The few persons who have been referred to Sacro’s Tackling Offending Prejudices service do not represent such a risk to public disorder that it suggests a defined separate criminal offence relating to this specific offence is proportionate and merits such specification of this as a distinct offence.”

Sacro Chief Executive, Tom Halpin, said: “If you give a fixed penalty ticket to someone who is chanting something that they would say their uncles and their father did in the past and they don’t understand it, you send someone away who has not changed their attitude.”

The Sacro Tackling Offending Prejudices (STOP) initiative provides a national service throughout Scotland for those specifically charged under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

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Danielle Mustarde

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