MSPs back repeal of beleaguered sectarianism law

Scotland’s contentious sectarianism law looks set to be abolished, after a majority of MSPs backed its repeal.

Last week,opposition MSPs combined to defeat the Government and push through a motion against the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act (OBFA), by 64 votes to 63.

Although the vote is not binding on ministers, it indicates that a forthcoming Bill to repeal the legislation is likely to pass.

‘Dead in the water’

Labour MSP James Kelly is set to introduce a Bill which he hopes will pass early next year.

He described the law as “dead in the water” and called on the Government to establish plans for repeal as a “matter of urgency”.

“Academics, lawyers, football clubs and football fans opposed it, yet the SNP wouldn’t listen and used their then majority in the Scottish Parliament to rail-road the Football Act through.”

“Having lost that majority, and faced with clear public support for repeal”, he added, the SNP need to “think again”.

Free speech

The OBFA was criticised when it was being introduced in 2011 because it sought to create a Scotland-wide religious hatred law with no robust safeguards for free speech.

The Christian Institute lodged a judicial review which led to the Bill being delayed by six months.

Later, after further pressure from the Institute and its supporters, a free speech clause was introduced to the religious hatred offence. This ensured that evangelism, discussions about faith, and criticism of religions would not be caught within the remit of the Bill.

Earlier this year, Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said: “We campaigned for and won substantial safeguards for free speech in this law but there is nothing safer than abolishing it altogether.”

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