MSPs urged to await outcome of major hate crime review

MSPs have been urged to await the outcome of a major hate crime review before deciding to repeal a law aimed at tackling sectarian behaviour at football matches.

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said it would be “wise” to wait for the recommendations of a study being carried out by Lord Bracadale.

The senior judge is currently examining all hate crime legislation, including the Scottish Government’s controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.

Football Law
Opposition MSPs are urging the Scottish Government to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.

The act has been met with criticism amid claims that the legislation is unworkable, badly drafted and unfairly targets football fans.

But Dr Frazer said: “There remain concerns that, regardless of the technical details of the legislation and prosecution and conviction rates, repealing the Act without replacement would be a symbol that our elected representatives do not think that behaving offensively or sending threatening communications is problematic.

“At a time of rising levels of antisemitism and islamophobia and where sectarianism remains a reality of life in Scotland, the wider implications for repeal should be taken into account."

Challenge

Dr Frazer said the Church wanted politicians to demonstrate a cross-party consensus that any behaviour regardless of location, which is motivated by hatred of racial or religious groups, is unacceptable.

He urged supporters of repeal to make it clear that the move does not “legitimise or encourage” hate crime, offensive behaviour or threating communications.

Rev Ian Galloway, a former convener of the Church and Society Council, is today giving evidence to Holyrood’s Justice Committee on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill.

The Member’s Bill, which will be addressed by other faith group representatives, has been lodged by Labour MSP James Kelly.

Abhorred

In written evidence to the committee, prepared following consultation with interfaith and ecumenical partners, Dr Frazer said opponents of repeal must show what they are doing to help eradicate all forms of hate crime, offensive behaviour and threatening communications.

“The continuous challenge and priority for all is making Scotland a safer and inclusive society where violence of any kind is abhorred and is addressed effectively in our communities,” he added.

Responding to the original consultation during the passing of the Act in 2011, the Church of Scotland welcomed the introduction of specific offences relating to religious hatred and sectarianism at football matches.

Read the Church and Society Council's full written submission.