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Scots fast-track law to red card football bigots

Tough new laws targeting racists, bigots and sectarianism at football matches in Scotland have been published.

The draft legislation would create two offences relating to behaviour deemed to “incite religious, racial or other forms of hatred” in and around football grounds and on the internet.

Offenders could be jailed for five years.

The Bill is being fast-tracked through the Scottish parliament so the law is in place in time for the new football season on July 23.

However, legal experts say this fast-tracking means not enough scrutiny would be applied to the legislation.

If passed by MSPs, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill would mean those convicted could spend as long as five years in prison and be banned from football grounds.

Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham of the Scottish National Party said: “Racism, bigotry and sectarianism are not welcome in Scotland. It is totally unacceptable, and those who perpetuate this hatred will be punished through the full force of the law.

“These new laws will send out a clear message that there is no place for bigots in a modern-day Scotland.”

Existing law sees people who disrupt football matches charged with breach of the peace, which carries a maximum one-year sentence. However, the new Bill targets behaviour deemed to be threatening, abusive, disorderly or offensive. Online hate crime, such as abusive or offensive comments posted on Twitter, is also included and carries the same jail term.

The legislation comes in the wake of several high-profile football-related incidents.

In one case, two men have appeared in court in connection with parcel bombs which were sent to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two high-profile supporters of the club in March.

Football clubs, the Scottish Premier League, Scottish Football Association and police all say they welcome the move.

But Bill McVicar, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s criminal law committee, said: “We understand the importance of tackling sectarianism. This is a very serious issue and one that needs both attention and action from our political leaders.

“However, it is because of the importance of this issue that the Scottish government needs to allow adequate time to ensure the legislation can be properly scrutinised.”

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