Call to postpone Scottish sectarianism Bill

The Scottish Government should postpone its controversial sectarianism Bill, a former senior police figure has said.

The call, from Graeme Pearson, has received support from a leading lawyer and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s Bill is a response to incidents of sectarian hatred that flared up during the last Scottish football season.

But Mr Pearson, a former assistant chief constable of Strathclyde, believes laws are already in place which can deal with breaches of the peace and authorities can also use football banning orders.

Mr Pearson, who is currently a Labour MSP, told the Christian Institute: “We should use the current legislation and wait another year before thinking about new legislation – that would also give the clubs an opportunity to fix the problem.”

Aidan O’Neill QC said: “This is a complex area and the Scottish government would do well to wait another year to give them a chance to resolve the potential problems with the Bill.

“A broad consultation would also allow the opportunity to gauge if further legislation is needed.”

The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland’s spokesman Peter Kearney said it is “never a good idea to act in haste”.

“A pause to consider seems very sensible," he added.

In June this year the Scottish Government tried to rush the legislation through, but the move faced much opposition.

Critics expressed concern that the Bill may have gone wider than tackling sectarian hatred within football and inadvertently interfered with civil liberty and free speech.

The lightning-fast timetable for the Bill was challenged in court by The Christian Institute and CARE in Scotland.

Following the legal action, the Government decided to delay the legislation by six months.

In June, Dr Gordon Macdonald of CARE for Scotland said: “We look forward to working with the Scottish Parliament to ensure this legislation is improved significantly in order to protect freedom of speech and religious liberty whilst dealing effectively with the problem of sectarianism.”