An evaluation of Section 1 of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012

An Evaluation of the implementation and impact of section 1 of the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012


It is not in the remit of the evaluation to engage in political and normative debates about the continued existence of the Act. Our remit is to comment on the Act's 'effectiveness' and to suggest ways in which that 'effectiveness' might be enhanced.

Recommendation 1 (R1) The formal objectives of the Act are to address a variety of hate crimes, not just sectarianism. Acknowledging that there appears to have been a recognised reduction in sectarian-associated offences, this broader focus needs to be strengthened.

R2 Careful consideration needs to be given to how best to improve relationships and trust between supporters groups, clubs and the police. This is critical if recent gains in terms of reductions in criminalised activity are to be consolidated.

There is already evidence that fans within stadia are self-policing each other to an extent. The more fans identify with the aims and legitimacy of the Act, and the more that they approve of (and identify with), official actors in terms of how they enforce the Act, the stronger one would expect this self-policing to be.

R3 In terms of police and club operational tactics, a clearer demarcation needs to be made between violent risk groups and other sets of fans who are at risk of engaging in non-violent, offensive behaviour.

R4 Clubs, in particular, need to be re-engaged with work in this area, for instance taking forward educational initiatives, and having a much closer dialogue with supporters groups.

R5 Clubs and the police authorities should continue to focus on balancing the need to hold secure matches, free from offensiveness and disorder, whilst ensuring a consistent and proportionate response to the policing of more vocal and enthusiastic fan groups.

Grievances about inconsistent treatment were particularly emphasised by those supporters who travelled to away games. In our 2013 survey 81% of away supporters agreed that they were treated very differently at different stadiums by stewards and police. Fans and police officers alike valued more experienced officers and stewards in part, precisely because, they would act with more consistency.

R6 Models of good stewarding and local policing should be identified and strengthened.

R7 Given the great range of behaviours encompassed by the Act (with the types of offensiveness covered ranging widely in terms of seriousness), greater consideration should be given to a more nuanced set of responses, shading from club-focussed sanctions and diversionary measures that preclude the need to impose a criminal record, through to appropriate criminal penalties for more serious or incorrigible offenders. For instance, consideration should be given to using diversionary sanctions for less serious s. 1 offences (and for first time offenders) such as short football banning orders (ideally combined with match period sign-on conditions to maximise effectiveness).

R8 More serious s. 1 cases should receive faster consideration by relevant agencies, and should reach a conclusion more quickly. This, particularly if combined with the previous recommendation, would potentially improve confidence in the fairness and proportionality of charges made under s. 1 of the Act.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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