Judge to examine Scotland's football law

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image captionThe law was introduced as part of efforts to crack down on anti-social behaviour at football matches

The controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is to be examined by a senior judge as part of a review of Scotland's hate crime laws.

All four opposition parties at Holyrood want to repeal the football act.

But the Scottish government says it will not do so without a "viable alternative" being put in place.

Lord Bracadale has now been asked by the government to ensure all of the country's hate crime legislation is fit for the 21st century.

His independent review will start on 30 January, and is expected to last up to 12 months - after which the judge will present his recommendations to the Scottish government.

His remit is to consider whether existing laws are the the most effective way of dealing with criminal conduct motivated by hatred, malice, ill-will or prejudice.

It will consider the various hate crime offences currently covered by a range of different laws, including:

  • Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995
  • Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003
  • Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009
  • Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012

Announcing the review in the Scottish Parliament, Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing said Scotland was an "open and inclusive nation", but was not immune from the threat of racism, intolerance and prejudice.

She added: "While we already have robust and comprehensive laws in place, we need to make sure that legislation is up-to-date and able to counter all forms of hate crime.

"This review will help ensure we have the right legislative protection in place to tackle hate crime wherever and whenever it happens. I look forward to Lord Bracadale presenting his findings."

Age and gender

Lord Bracadale has been asked examine whether the scope of existing laws should be adjusted to reflect further aspects of religiously motivated offending.

He was also tasked with looking at whether new categories of hate crime should be created for characteristics such as age and gender, which are not currently covered.

And he will be asked to examine whether the existing laws can be simplified, and whether any "gaps, anomalies and inconsistencies" can be addressed.

Lord Bracadale said: "Hate crime legislation has developed intermittently over many years and it is important to consider whether it currently provides appropriate, effective and consistent protection for Scottish communities".

The review was welcomed by opposition politicians at Holyrood, who handed the Scottish government a symbolic defeat over the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act in November.

Conservative MSP Douglas Ross accused the Scottish government of "continuing to ignore the will of parliament" by refusing to scrap the act, which opponents claim is poorly written, unnecessary and unfairly targets football fans.

Labour's Claire Baker told Ms Ewing: "We do not share her view that there is no viable alternative and I believe the review will recognise this."

Ms Ewing said the Scottish government recognised the concerns raised over the law but will not repeal it without a "viable alternative", saying: "Such a move would take away protection from some of our most vulnerable communities."

The majority SNP government passed the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act in 2012 as part of attempts to crack down on sectarianism and other anti-social behaviour at football matches.

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