Tougher laws to tackle sectarianism
Tough new laws targeting racists, bigots and sectarianism at football matches have been published by the Scottish Government.
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 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 said: "These new laws will send out a clear message that there is no place for bigots in a modern-day Scotland. From the start of the new season, anyone who peddles sectarian hatred in any football stadium in Scotland, on the way to or from a game, or hiding behind a computer screen could now face up to five years in jail."
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 five-year maximum jail term.
Football clubs, the Scottish Premier League, Scottish Football Association and police all said they welcomed 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. It is particularly vital for sufficient time to be allowed at stage one, the evidence gathering stage, for proper public consultation."