Anti-sectarian legislation 'working well'

Football match The sectarian law was designed to reduce religious hatred linked to football

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Anti-sectarian legislation has worked well in its first year, the justice secretary has said.

On 1 March last year police and prosecutors were given additional powers to crack down on sectarian songs and abuse at football matches.

The legislation also relates to threatening behaviour posted on the internet or via mail.

Kenny MacAskill said: "The charge and conviction rates for people arrested show that it is working well."

He added: "This legislation was introduced in response to Scotland's police and prosecutors, who told us they needed greater powers to take a hard line on sectarianism associated with football.

"We have made clear that bigotry and religious hatred have no place in modern Scotland and we will stamp on it wherever and whenever it occurs."

He said the majority of Scots - 91% - supported tougher action to tackle the problem.

Concerns raised

"The overwhelming majority of football fans are law abiding and want to enjoy the friendly rivalry that is part of any game without this being marred by the actions of a mindless minority, Mr MacAskill said.

"We are under no illusions - the problem of sectarianism isn't just a football issue. That is why we are spending £9m over the next three years on a range of projects to tackle sectarianism across society."

In November Lord Advocate Frank Mullholland QC said 89% of cases reported under the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act had been prosecuted, with a conviction rate of 83%.

Punishments under the act include long-term football banning orders.

Mr MacAskill's praise for the legislation comes after lawyers raised concerns over the way it was being implemented.

The Scottish government is commissioning an independent evaluation of the legislation to meet a parliamentary requirement and six research organisations are involved in the tender for the work.

Figures from the first year of the act are still being collated and analysed and will be published at the end of the football season.

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