MSPs urged to wait for judge’s report on hate crime legislation review

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MSPs have been urged to wait for the outcome of an ongoing major hate crime review before deciding whether to repeal a law aimed at tackling sectarianism at football and online abuse.

Judge Lord Bracadale is currently examining all hate crime legislation, including the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.

Labour’s James Kelly has lodged a Member’s Bill to repeal the law, highlighting criticism from legal figures and arguing it unfairly targets football fans, while supporters argue it discourages offensive behaviour.

The Church of Scotland and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities have warned against a blanket repeal of the legislation and urged MSPs to wait for Lord Bracadale’s report.

In a written submission to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, the latter organisation said they are concerned repeal of the Bill “would send exactly the wrong message” and encourage extending the law rather then scrapping it.

The submission states: “We therefore urge that this Bill should not proceed, firstly because it would provide reassurance to perpetrators and alarm their victims, and secondly because piecemeal measures are inappropriate in advance of the findings of Lord Bracadale’s comprehensive review.”

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, said MSPs would be “wise” to wait for the review outcome.

In his committee submission, he wrote: “There remain concerns that, regardless of the technical details of the legislation and prosecution and conviction rates, repealing the Act without replacement would be a symbol that our elected representatives do not think that behaving offensively or sending threatening communications is problematic.

“At a time of rising levels of antisemitism and islamophobia and where sectarianism remains a reality of life in Scotland, the wider implications for repeal should be taken into account. ”

The Scottish Women’s Convention and the Equality of Human Rights Commission also want any repeal to be blocked until the end of Lord Bracadale’s review.

Members from the groups are due to give evidence to the committee on Tuesday, along with representatives from legal organisations including the Law Society of Scotland and the Glasgow Bar Association.

The bar association backs repeal and told MSPs in a written submission this would not create a gap in the law.

The Law Society of Scotland said all those prosecuted under the law could have been dealt with under legislation which pre-dates the original Act.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “No-one should be subjected to abusive behaviour or be exempt from rules governing behaviour that is considered unacceptable.

“As groups representing victims and equalities campaigners continue to indicate, repealing the Act without offering a viable alternative will send entirely the wrong signal to both football and wider society. Those advocating repeal need to explain exactly how they would fill the potentially dangerous gaps in the law that would result.

“The current independent review of hate crime legislation is hugely significant and offers a way forward that will help to deliver legislation fit for the modern, multi-cultural and multi-faith society that Scotland is.”