An evaluation of Section 6 of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012

An Evaluation of the implementation and impact of section 6 of the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012

2. The evaluation

23. A report on the operation of the new offences was a statutory requirement of the legislation, and this evaluation was commissioned to support this requirement. This evaluation seeks mainly to determine whether the introduction of section 6 has achieved its primary aim; the prevented the communication of threatening material, particularly where it incites religious hatred that would otherwise have occurred, and achieving this without causing any other unintended harmful consequences.

24. To assess whether section 6 has achieved this purpose the evaluation uses both qualitative and quantitative research methods to explore the introduction, enforcement and impact of the legislation, gauging the perspectives of a full a range of key stakeholders (e.g. the police, the judiciary, Scottish football supporters, and internet forum administrators). The evaluation also addresses some of the issues raised during the consultation period and considers the extent to which these concerns have been realised or not.

25. The time period for the evaluation is from March 2012 to April 2014; this includes 1 month (March 2012) of the 2011-12 financial year[14], and the following 2 full financial years, 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Research methods

Qualitative interviews

26. The report draws on data from qualitative interviews. The following participants were involved: 7 front-line police officers; 4 members of the Football Coordination Unit Scotland and 2 Football Liaison Procurator Fiscals. Interviews with police officers and the representatives from COPFS were all conducted face-to-face. The interviews were semi-structured, following a topic guide (see Appendix A for interview schedule example), and lasted approximately 40 minutes each.

27. Two online interviews were completed with forum administrators of Scottish football supporter websites, and a phone interview with 1 national newspaper website forum administrator. These methods were used in order to facilitate participation in the evaluation.

28. All interviews were carried out by Neil Davidson, a social researcher in Justice Analytical Services, and Kathryn Skivington[15].

Official administrative data

29. This report focuses on charges reported under section 6 of the Act during the period of March 2012 through to March 2014, and provides further analysis of Scottish Government published statistics on the number of section 6 charges reported to the COPFS for 2011-12 (single month) 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Online Survey

30. A nation-wide online survey was conducted to attempt to assess the impact of the Act on the views and behaviour of Scottish football supporters - a key target group for the legislation following the origins of the legislation in football-related threats on social media. The survey was conducted by ScotCen Social Research (who were part of the team involved in undertaking the accompanying evaluation of section 1 of the Act) over seasons 2012-13, 2013-14, and was designed to provide an overview of opinions from a cross-section of fans - specifically, supporters at clubs in the Scottish Premier League (SPL) and Scottish Football Leagues 1, 2 and 3. Several questions regarding section 6 were included in the most recent survey (season 2013-14) and drew on a sample size of 2,185 supporters. These respondents were reached with the assistance of Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS). SDS has created a forum for Scottish football supporters who wish to debate issues related to Scottish football via its 'Scottish Fans' forums and social media streams. SDS supporters network has members from all the 42 SPFL clubs that includes both season ticket holders and non-season ticket holders. Every supporter in the SDS network received an emailed invitation to take part in the survey by clicking on a hyperlink and responses were subsequently received from supporters of all 42 clubs.

Limitations of the methods

31. There are a number methodological issues to take into account in relation to the data gathering process. First, it was sometimes difficult to recruit all of the intended participants (a common challenge of qualitative research). Generally the representation of practitioners and relevant stakeholders was high, however there were some access issues encountered in relation to recruiting Sheriffs and Fiscals primarily because they did not believe they could offer any relevant information as the vast majority had no dealings with section 6 charges. The excerpts from Sheriffs that are included in this evaluation are from data provided by the team that has undertaken the accompanying evaluation of section 1 of the Act. However, while there were some recruitment difficulties a wide range of stakeholders were interviewed and engaged fully with the research, enabling a good understanding of the key issues in relation to policing and enforcement of the act.

32. The methodological issues associated with the Scottish football supporters survey is covered in greater detail in the accompanying evaluation of section 1 of the Act. However, it should be noted that the survey was designed predominately to answer questions regarding section 1 of the Act (offensive behaviour at football), meaning several questions regarding section 6 (threatening communications) may have been coloured by the respondents opinions on the former (e.g. questions enquiring into a respondent's knowledge of the Act, and how it has impacted behaviour at football). Involving only football supporters may also only provide specific perspectives, missing alternative views that might be gained from involving other groups within society (e.g. experiences of online racist, sexist, homophobic threats). However, the views of football supporters may be a useful reference point for thinking about the effectiveness of the legislation, given the recent history of many of the high profile threatening communications related to football.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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