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Snp Looking To Soften Stance On Sectarian Laws


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SNP softens stance on football sectarian laws amid fears young men unnecessarily criminalised

Published on 13 June 2015

David Leask and Martin Williams

FANS who sing offensive songs will face banning orders rather than prosecution after the SNP moved to soften its flagship sectarian football law.

Scottish Government, courts and prosecution officials have all signalled they want to make more use of civil bans rather than criminal punishments for those who flaunt the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

The lighter-touch approach was announced after an independent report warned that the law, introduced at the end of the 2011-12 season, had put new strains on relations between police and supporters.

Researchers from the University of Stirling and ScotCen Research also found that some police officers felt the act's emphasis on singing or offensive displays distracted them from monitoring more violent risk groups.

The researchers called for a "more nuanced set of responses" to offensive behaviour, including sanctions imposed by clubs, diversionary measures that avoid criminal disposals and short-term football banning orders.

The latter measure, they suggested, should be "ideally combined with match period sign-on conditions to maximise effectiveness".

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland and Community Safety Minister Paul Wheelhouse backed the research during a visit to Sacro, a charity that leads on diversionary tactics. Mr Wheelhouse announced new funding to expand Sacro's work.

Mr Mulholland stressed his prosecutors would still seek criminal sanctions against fans where they thought this was merited. But he welcomed alternatives.

He said: "It is important that all actions taken to tackle offending linked to sectarianism at football matches and elsewhere in our communities are proportionate and effective."

Justice insiders underline Mr Mulholland's use of the word "proportionate".

Much of the criticism of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act has been that prosecutions were deemed to be disproportionate.

Research found this was a widely held view among supporters.

The academics concluded: "Tensions around the introduction of the act however - and in particular the extent to which certain sections of fans felt over-policed, and subject to disproportionate levels of surveillance, searches and public-order style policing - was considered to have placed a strain on police, club and fan relationships at certain clubs."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said the existing legislation for football banning orders was under review.

Currently only the police can ask the courts to ban a fan from football. However, there are those who wish to give clubs the power to apply for such bans, civil orders, which, if breached, incur criminal penalties.

The spokesman added: "With officials at the Scottish Court Service and the Crown Office we are considering whether improvements to procedures could encourage greater use of Football Banning Orders under existing legislation."

The research, meanwhile, revealed that the number of crimes recorded under the act had dropped by 24 per cent between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Researchers said it was "impossible to determine" whether some, or any of these reductions are attributable directly to the act.

The period of the act coincides with relegation of Rangers to the lower leagues - and end to Old Firm fixtures, one of which had inspired the legislation in the first place.

Almost half of all people taken to court last year under the laws designed to stamp out sectarian abuse at football matches were acquitted, figures show.

There was action taken against 161 people in 2013/14 with not guilty outcomes in 74 cases.

The study aimed to find ways to make the law work - not judge whether it should continue.

Online campaign Fans Against Criminalisation said it was "premature" to say if the act would survive. Celtic have called for parts of it to be repealed.

Historian Sir Tom Devine welcomed moves to soften its implementation but said he still feared young men were being criminalised - and their careers ruined - because they became involved in what they say as historic or traditional chants that were not explicitly sectarian.

He said: "I don't know of any country where songs to do with religion or history are criminalised."

The new research said that 85 per cent of fans said it is offensive to sing, chant or shout things about people's religious background or beliefs at football matches. That figure fell to 82 per cent for supporters of Celtic and just 60 per cent for Rangers.

P.S. I don't have a subscription. It's just easy to get round. Incognito window does the trick.
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'Tensions around the introduction of the act however - and in particular the extent to which certain sections of fans felt over-policed, and subject to disproportionate levels of surveillance, searches and public-order style policing - was considered to have placed a strain on police, club and fan relationships at certain clubs.'

In other words, sellic are not happy at the unexpected consequences of the 'offensiveness' clampdown they were so vocally in favour of, so we're looking into changing it.

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'Tensions around the introduction of the act however - and in particular the extent to which certain sections of fans felt over-policed, and subject to disproportionate levels of surveillance, searches and public-order style policing - was considered to have placed a strain on police, club and fan relationships at certain clubs.'

In other words, sellic are not happy at the unexpected consequences of the 'offensiveness' clampdown they were so vocally in favour of, so we're looking into changing it.

Absolutely bang on, mate!

They campaigned for it, then realised they couldn't get away with restricting it to certain rival fans. They simply can't accept that the law should be fair and applicable to all.

The hypocrisy will be enshrined in this law change.

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This bit also deserves highlighting.

The research, meanwhile, revealed that the number of crimes recorded under the act had dropped by 24 per cent between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Researchers said it was "impossible to determine" whether some, or any of these reductions are attributable directly to the act.

The period of the act coincides with relegation of Rangers to the lower leagues - and end to Old Firm fixtures, one of which had inspired the legislation in the first place.

Without explicitly saying it, they're misrepresenting it to appear that the drop between both season was due to our forced removal, whereas our removal preceded both seasons.

The drop is therefore not explained by our absence.

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'Tensions around the introduction of the act however - and in particular the extent to which certain sections of fans felt over-policed, and subject to disproportionate levels of surveillance, searches and public-order style policing - was considered to have placed a strain on police, club and fan relationships at certain clubs.'

In other words, sellic are not happy at the unexpected consequences of the 'offensiveness' clampdown they were so vocally in favour of, so we're looking into changing it.

Sellic reserve the right to impose their high moral standards on everyone except themselves.

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