New laws to ban football hooligans
Football hooligans in Northern Ireland are set to be banned by the courts for the first time from matches at home and abroad under new justice proposals.
The courts will be given powers to bar someone from attending certain football matches inside and outside the province if convicted of violence or disorder at a sporting event.
Police and the Public Prosecution Service will also be able to apply to the courts to ban someone if they suspect they are planning to cause trouble at a forthcoming match.
The proposal will finally bring Northern Ireland into line with other parts of the UK and is aimed at preventing a repeat of violence seen in Belfast last year before the World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Poland at Windsor Park when riot police had to be deployed after fans clashed near the grounds.
In equally ugly scenes the previous year, during the annual Big Two Boxing Day meeting at Windsor Park, rival sets of fans clashed after around 70 Glentoran supporters broke through a security cordon intended to stop them from occupying seats close to Linfield supporters. Stewards were powerless to break up the violence.
The new proposal, which is aimed at football, GAA and rugby matches, is one of a number of recommendations to help “promote good behaviour by fans”.
Offensive chanting at an event is set to become a criminal offence. The creation of new offences of missile throwing, unauthorised incursion of a football pitch, being drunk, possessing alcohol and ticket touting are also planned.
The suggested policies are part of a package of new proposals within Northern Ireland’s Justice Bill which is due to be presented to the Assembly later in the year.
Proposals within the Bill also include:
- Tougher sentences for common assault.
- e The introduction of fixed penalties as an alternative to prosecution for less serious crimes such as shoplifting and disorderly behaviour.
- e Stricter criteria for the granting of legal aid, including a fixed financial limit beyond which a defendant would be ineligible.
- e Courts to be allowed to recover defence costs against legally aided defendants who are convicted.
- e A victims’ levy, which would see defendants having to pay money into a Victims of Crime Fund.
Since taking up the post as Justice Minister, David Ford has insisted that he wants to see fewer offenders being sent to jail, with less serious criminals being rehabilitated in the community.
The Bill looks at a number of alternatives to prosecution and jail terms, which are aimed at preventing reoffending, reducing prison costs and overcrowding and speeding up the justice process.
The Bill recommends the introduction of fixed penalty notices for a number of more minor crimes including criminal damage, disorderly behaviour, indecent behaviour, obstructing police, purchasing or selling alcohol to a minor, and shoplifting.
The fixed penalties would be issued by the PSNI as an alternative to prosecution.
It has also been recommended that the PPS be able to impose a prosecutorial penalty instead of proceeding with a prosecution “where it is believed that this would be an appropriate and proportionate diversionary response”.
This will be Northern Ireland’s first Justice Bill in almost 40 years and will be brought before the Assembly after the summer recess.