Wednesday, June 22, 2011
The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill needs a sunset clause, subjective opinion based law is nonsense
Les Gray fronts for the Scottish Police Federation and he is a card.
He says that new laws to clamp down on football hate-crime require far more funding.
This is like a Glasgow Labour Councillor approach, be paid twice for the same job.
At present, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill is winging its way through Parliament.
And today the newspapers are running ‘Crime to sing the national anthem’.
The Bill is being rushed through Holyrood so that it can be in place for the start of the football season.
The law is poorly designed, as someone on their way to a football match singing British national anthem or Flower of Scotland could be arrested and found guilty but two feet away another guy going to the shops to pick up a loaf would be innocent.
This Bill requires a sunset clause so it can be revisited later after data is collected to see how it functions or not.
Anyway back to Les Gray, he says the financial provision “did not scratch the surface” of what would be required to “hammer” sectarian behaviour in order to deter such conduct in future.
It is dead simple, the Police see someone breaking the law and they arrest them, they are already paid for that.
Deputy Justice Minister Roseanna Cunningham went in front of the Holyrood Parliament Committee to answer questions.
MSPs wanted to know what might constitute an offensive song.
Tory John Lamont asked whether the British national anthem or Flower of Scotland could be considered offensive under the new Act.
“No,” boldly declared Ms Cunningham, but she said context was everything.
Which means, No and Yes rather than plain old no!
She cited the way Rule Britannia had become a sectarian anthem in some quarters, while other conduct could shift into the realm of the offensive depending on context.
Ms Cunningham opined:
“I would not regard it as an offensive song, which is exactly why we don’t start defining which songs and listing the songs because it is a matter of facts and circumstances of the case whether something is or is not offensive. I have seen hundreds of Celtic fans, in a manner which I can only describe as aggressive, making signs of the cross, gesticulating across an open area to Rangers fans. A sign of the cross is not in itself offensive but in circumstances such as Rangers and Celtic fans meeting each other in a crowded street, it could be construed as something that is offensive.”
“I want to remind everybody what we saw during the last football season, scenes which none of us ever wish to see repeated, scenes which were broadcast throughout the world and which shamed Scotland. Football is our national game, millions of people are passionate about it but we can’t tolerate the complete corruption of that passion into hate, whether it is mass sectarian chanting or bullets and bombs in the post.”
SNP Convener Christine Grahame said the Justice Committee has been “put in a very difficult position” in wishing to examine the Bill on behalf of the public in the timescale proposed.
Ms Cunningham responded:
“I don’t rule out the possibility in a few years’ time of revisiting the situation with legislation.”
Freedom of speech is a human right and freedom of religion is also a human right.
And the UK Supreme Court if cases end up there because of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill will have a field day.
This Bill is rather surprising given the Scottish Government stance of keeping Scots out the UK Supreme Court in the place.
Mr Gray and Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan, who represented the Association of Chief Police Officers of Scotland, agreed that the new laws would be useful.
After toadying up Mr Gray said:
“I have absolutely no doubt that the financial memorandum is way off the mark. I don’t think £0.5 million to £0.7m will even scratch the surface of what is required. For the last few years, particularly the last two years, the police service has been engaged actively in removing police officers from football grounds to reduce costs. We’re now going to have to reverse that trend in order to enforce this legislation properly by bringing more police officers to police these games before, during and after.”
It would be far simpler to deal with this problem by stopping a match dead in its tracks citing health and safety by the Police.
Fans in the terraces would soon get the message that sectarianism will not be tolerated, all season tickets holders should have a photographic pass to get them in and if they cause trouble, banned for life from games.
A point made by Gray is that when this Bill passes, when two to three Police officers would be sent in to pubs during a football match to claim things down, enforcing these additional new laws safely could mean as many as between 20 and 30 officers would be needed.
This Bill needs a sunset clause before someone going for a loaf and pint of milk gets nicked for singing Flower of Scotland wandering down the street.
The scenario is as follows.
The Punter singing gets nicked and taken to court.
‘You were singing Flower of Scotland on the way to a football game’.
‘No, I don’t like football; I was going to the shops’.
Football in part is a mob activity, where perfectly ordinary people for 90 minutes get the opportunity to vent off and call total strangers 'bastards', then everyone goes home happy.
Sunset clause please!
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University