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Offensive Behaviour at Football – Scotland, Ireland, Palestine?

As Solicitors in the criminal courts in Glasgow we often see more than our fair share of football related offences. The introduction of The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland)  Act 2012 has brought with it a whole new batch of potential offences.

In recent years offences such as the singing of certain songs, the displaying of certain banners and flags and even the Tweeting of views linked to football have seen arrests.Strathclyde Police now have a specific football task force and carry out dawn raids on the homes of potential suspects.The Procurator Fiscals office in Glasgow has a designated unit staffed by senior prosecutors to deal with the issue. These prosecutors now attend high profile games and physically point out potentially offensive behaviour to police officers.

So how did we get to this point and what are the issues:Was this piece of legislation really prompted by a football club appointing an Northern Irish Catholic Manager?  Was it prompted by one club refusing to desist from signing about Irish republicanism? Was it prompted by the other club refusing to stop singing about Famines and the fact the other half should “go home”?Could it be more fundamental than that does it link to our country separating children at age 5 to go to a school decided by religion?It is difficult to see but freedom of speech linked to football has changed for good.

It is surely unarguable that people should not sign about the IRA at football matches and it is equally unarguable that songs about killing Irish Catholics have no place in 21st century life.However, it would appear that the Police now seek to go even further. As recently as November 2012 supporters groups have threatened to boycott games due to perceived police intimidation. The Green Brigade claim police intimidation specifically targeting an area of the stadium where they congregate. Can it really by right that police are taking video recordings row by row of supporters at SPL games in Scotland? The same issue has been raised by The Blue Order on the other side of Glasgow. If the Green Brigade follow through their threat to boycott home matches Scottish football may have another potential crisis on its hands.What all supporters groups want to know is what constitutes offensive behaviour at football? The crown Office have provided the following guidance;

Dealing with the issues raised by the Green Brigade. We have seen members of their group arrested for carrying “Starry Plough” flags (now accepted by the Procurator Fiscal not to be an offence),signing “The Roll of Honour” relating to Irish hunger strikers and most recently for displaying banners carrying pro-Palestine sentiments.It is alleged that Police have gone even further in a recent Aberdeen v Celtic match where Palestinian flags were taken from supporters waving them in the crowd.  It seems that the police take the view that displaying a national flag could incite public disorder.

Is waving a national flag offensive or threatening? No
Is it likely to incite public disorder? No
Does a persons right to freedom of speech change when they enter a football stadium? No
Is it more likely that public disorder will take place as police offers attempt to take a flag from a person not committing a criminal offence? Yes

There is no doubt great strides have been taken in this country to deal with the spectre of sectarianism however there is a fine line between that and politically motivated bullying.Have you been arrested or charged with a football related offence? Contact Ross Yuill at The Glasgow Law Practice who can provide immediate advice.