Scotland politics

Anti-sectarian football legislation could face early review

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

An early review of controversial laws intended to stamp out religious sectarian abuse at football matches is being considered by MSPs.

Fans groups have raised concerns about how the legislation is working.

Holyrood's justice committee now wants the Scottish government, the Lord Advocate and the police to respond to the issues highlighted.

The Scottish government said it would give "full consideration" to any justice committee correspondence.

When the new act came into force last year it was agreed it would be reviewed after two full football seasons.

However, after hearing representations from the fans, MSPs on the committee have raised the possibility of the review being brought forward.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act, which received Royal Assent in January last year, gave police and prosecutors 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.

An agreement was made at the time for the Scottish government to review the operation of the offences after two seasons and to report back to parliament by August 2015.

'Sizeable group'

MSPs on the justice committee have agreed to write to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and Chief Constable Sir Stephen House seeking a response within two weeks.

They will then make a formal decision on whether or not an early review of how the legislation is working is required.

Independent MSP John Finnie told the committee: "When we're down to a sizeable group of people feeling that a piece of legislation disproportionately impacts on them, then I'd like to have an early review."

Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell backed his proposal and said: "Clearly there is a lot of concern about how this legislation is operating in practice and about the drafting of it initially. It concerns me too about the amount of resource going to it."

SNP MSP Sandra White, supported by party colleagues, said there was already a provision to review the law after two full seasons.

"I don't think it will serve any purpose whatsoever for us to look at a separate investigation," she said.

Labour MSP Elaine Murray said she received only a small number of letters on the subject.

"But I think there are issues about the operation of the act," she added.

'Above the parapet'

Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said fans were now putting their heads above the parapet.

"I'd prefer a proper review that let us draw evidence on that," she said.

The committee agreed to support convener Christine Grahame's call for responses from government, the Lord Advocate and police.

She cautioned against splitting the committee on the issue, and said: "It doesn't need to be a long time away. We could get a time-scale of a couple of weeks to get a reply.

"It's not really kicking it into the long grass."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "There is a statutory obligation for us to report to parliament on the operation of the act's offences over two full football seasons. Steps are already in hand to collect the evidence necessary to inform that report.

"An independent evaluation of the offence covered by Section 1 of the act "offensive behaviour at regulated football matches" is currently under way and we believe that awaiting that evidence on the operation of the act before reporting to parliament is the best course of action."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites