Holyrood's justice committee to probe sectarian bill

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Image caption The bill aims to tackle sectarianism related to football

Holyrood's justice committee has organised two days of evidence-taking on planned laws to tackle sectarianism, amid concerns they are too rushed.

MSPs are poised to pass new laws by the end of the month to help address the issue with tough new prison terms.

But justice committee convener Christine Grahame said independent scrutiny was needed.

Police, church, legal and football representatives are giving evidence to the committee over the next few days.

Parliament is voting on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill for the first time on Thursday, despite only being introduced last week.

The legislation aims to stamp out abusive behaviour from football fans whether they are watching matches in a stadium, in the pub or commenting online.

It would raise the maximum jail term from six months to five years.

Ministers want the laws in place for the start of the new football season, in July.

But Ms Grahame, an SNP MSP, said: "The justice committee feels that, due to the speed at which this important bill is scheduled to go through parliament, it is vital that we have some independent scrutiny from key stakeholders."

The committee will not produce a report on its sessions, as is the norm with legislation, but Ms Grahame added: "We hope that over the course of these evidence sessions our committee will prove to be a valuable resource in informing the Scottish Parliament's scrutiny of this bill."

On Tuesday, the committee will question Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham, along with senior police officers and members of the legal profession.

And, on Wednesday, MSPs will hear from the Scottish Premier League and football association representatives, Rangers security chief David Martin and the Church of Scotland.

The new legislation comes in the wake of several high-profile football-related incidents, including the recent appearance of two men in court, after suspected bombs were sent to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two other high-profile supporters of the club, in March.

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