Prof: sectarianism bill could damage Scots law

A prominent Scottish historian has warned new sectarianism legislation could bring Scottish law “into disrepute”.

Tom Devine, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, added to the criticism surrounding the sectarianism bill as he gave evidence to a Holyrood parliamentary committee.

There is widespread concern that the bill damages free speech and civil liberty.


Prof Devine criticised the bill for spreading out beyond tackling incidents of sectarianism that flared up during the last Scottish football season.

And he said the current law which deals with sectarianism is “perfectly adequate”.

Prof Devine also hit out at the original attempt to fast track the bill through the Scottish Parliament, saying the move would have been a “disaster”.


Last week the bill came under fire from football groups with Jeanette Findlay, chair of the Celtic Trust, saying: “It’s unclear what types of behaviour would be criminalised.”

She added that the legislation is “dangerous”, and commented: “We think it’s anti-football and it has no justification and any of the behaviours of a serious type are already covered by existing legislation.”

Greig Ingram, board member of the Aberdeen FC Trust, also told the committee that the legislation was unnecessary. He also said: “You don’t make a rule that you can’t enforce and it would be dangerous if this bill was passed just now because its unenforceable.”

And Mark Dingwall, from the Rangers Supporters Trust, cautioned: “There is almost an incitement to escalate the offensiveness. So, I can say that I am offended by a banner or a chant and I can go to the police and I can argue on the basis that ‘I am genuinely offended about that and you have to do something about it, otherwise you will be subject (to) disciplinary procedures’.”


Last month Celtic and Rangers said the Scottish Government’s legislation may be unnecessary.

In written submissions to the Scottish Parliament, Celtic said the law may criminalise innocent fans and Rangers were concerned that a lack of clarity may clog up the courts.

The clubs support the principle of tackling the incidents of sectarian hatred that flared up during the last Scottish football season. But they question whether the bill has the right approach.


In June this year the Scottish Government tried to rush the legislation through in just one week.

The lightning-fast timetable for the bill was challenged in court by The Christian Institute and CARE for Scotland.

Following the legal action, the Government decided to delay the legislation by six months.

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