This weekend sees the first outing for the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.
The Scottish Executive has been publicising the changes, and a press release on 29th February was issued to remind us all of the new Act.
Some extracts from the release are below in bold, with my comments in plain text.
The Act will come into force on March 1 to stamp out offensive and religious hatred at football.
The long title to the Act is – “An Act of the Scottish Parliament to create offences concerning offensive behaviour in relation to certain football matches, and concerning the communication of certain threatening material.”
That differs from the stated focus of the Act as per the press release, as it is a wider range.
In addition, according to the release, the Act will stamp out offensive hatred and religious hatred at football. I am not sure if there is “inoffensive” hatred. And the Act extends far further than “religion”.
Indeed as I have said before, “religion” is not the problem, unless support, especially for Rangers and Celtic, is seen as “religious”.
It is good to see that the aim is high – stamping out hatred. Is “hatred” now illegal?
The legislation responded to calls from Scotland’s police and prosecutors and gives them additional tools to crack down on sectarian songs and abuse at and around football matches and threats posted on the internet or through the mail.
Graeme Pearson, MSP, is a former police officer, latterly head of the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency. In the Committee stages of the Bill, he pointed out that the police would never decline greater powers. The same applies to prosecutors.
Is the position of the present Executive that the police and prosecutors will be given whatever powers they seek? Is the default position that, if the police and prosecutors ask for something, it is, by definition, necessary?
This is even more of a concern where the Crown Office, which is in charge of the Scottish prosecutorial system, is in the hands of career prosecutors. The present Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, and his predecessor, Dame Elish Angiolini, were both career prosecutors, working their way up through the ranks of procurators fiscal.
This trend (if two example can be considered a trend) is a change from the practice from before, stretching back hundreds of years. The Lord Advocate was appointed from the Scottish Bar, and whilst they would have had experience in Crown Office as a prosecutor, they would also have had a broader practice. They were independent of Crown Office, whilst heading it up.
As the great CLR James wrote in his book “Beyond a Boundary”, “What do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?”
What do they know of prosecution who only prosecution know?
The present and immediate past Lord Advocates are not unqualified for the role. However, the fact that they have had no experience elsewhere ought to have rendered them disqualified for the post.
The release also states that the new rules were needed as “additional tools” but surely the existing tools were sufficient?
This week has seen the imprisonment of David Craig for 14 months after admitting behaving in a threatening or abusive manner likely to cause fear and alarm by posting images and messages of an offensive, threatening and sectarian nature. He was dealt with under the “old” law.
Supt David Brand, head of the Football Coordination Unit Scotland, said: “On the day that the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 has come into force, this sends a strong warning to others who might think about posting such vile, abusive and threatening comments on Facebook, Twitter or indeed any other online site.”
I know that Supt Brand is a dedicated and excellent police officer. However, his statement seems to miss the point. Mr Craig is in prison as a result of the “old” law. That was sufficient to allow him to be prosecuted and imprisoned. The new Act makes no difference to that.
There have been regular reports of people being arrested for “offensive chanting”.
Where are the “criminals” who could not be prosecuted because of the new law not being yet in force? Continue reading