Thursday, June 23, 2011

First Minister Alex Salmond announces sectarianism bill delay at FMQs, 6 month delay gives everyone the opportunity to get it right, brilliant call!

Dear All

When the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill was proposed I was abit lukewarm about it.

My reason was that any new law needed to be robust and based on facts that a specific offence had been committed, not it might have been committed so let’s go to Court and have a discussion about it.

Just in case a Police officer was right in nicking someone in passing.

Anyway here are my previous thoughts.

Which I opined that subjective opinion based law is nonsense.

First Minister Alex Salmond has listened to concerns and rightly decided to delay for six months the new anti-sectarian legislation.

Alex Salmond said he had listened to concerns that the new law was being rushed through parliament.

I am not a big fan of rushing through emergency legislation at the best of times because things get missed and it can produce bad law.

Alex Salmond says he would set up a new timetable to ensure it was passed by the end of the year.

This will give people plenty of opportunity to have a good long look at the Bill and make suggestions if needed.

Opposition parties, Celtic and Rangers football clubs and the Church of Scotland had all expressed concern at the original timescale.

Mr Salmond announced the delay to the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill during first minister's questions, at Holyrood.

He told parliament more time was needed to take a range of evidence and views on the proposals.

Mr Salmond said:

"I accept, and I think everybody accepts, we have a majority in this chamber - but we need consensus. I hope, because what we say in this place on this issue has huge ramifications across society, that we can allow for the probability, the certainty that each and every single one of us wants to eliminate sectarianism and sectarian displays from Scottish football”.

The Bill plans to have two new offences on football-related behaviour regarded as offensive and threatening.

One deals with disorder around football matches inside the ground, and extends to those travelling to and from stadiums, as well as fans watching games elsewhere, for example in pubs or on big screens outdoors.

The second offence deals with serious threats including murder made on the internet.

Both offences would become indictable, with a maximum punishment of five years in jail.

The maximum jail term for sectarian hate crimes is currently six months which is far too low.

Draconian sentences send out a strong message.

This new legislation has only come about in the wake of several high-profile football-related incidents.

These include trouble at Rangers/Celtic games and the sending of suspected bombs to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two other high-profile supporters of the club.

Yesterday, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland jumped in feet first to add his bit and to ‘clarify’ the sectarian law by saying singing wouldn’t be seen as illegal without an "aggravating" factor.

Sit down Mulholland and have another pie, no one is asking you for your home spun wisdom.

Especially when you didn’t have the credibility to say that the Bill needed stopped in its tracks and pulled offline for it to be revisited.

I am quite pleased that the Scottish Government is taking the time to get this right and avoid the pitfalls and problems which would certain arise if this had gone through on the nod.

When I bumped into Nicola Sturgeon in the street in Glasgow a week after the Holyrood election, I said to her that even although the party had a massive majority, we should continue with consensus in the chamber.

George Laird was right again.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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