THE REPEAL of laws to fight bigotry in football could lead to a "regression" to offensive behaviour, a police chief has warned.

Police Scotland said the singing of offensive songs at football matches has been cut by the introduction of the anti-sectarianism laws.

And the force says  that "offensive songs which make reference to proscribed organisations", such as the IRA and the UVF, may be legalised if the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Scotland (2012) Act is successful.

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Assistant chief constable (ACC) Bernard Higgins said that "potentially the repeal of the Act would be interpreted by some people as a lifting of restrictions on their behaviour which possibly may lead to some regression to previous behaviour."

HeraldScotland: Fans Against Criminalisation hold a protest in Glasgow earlier this yearPicture: Jamie Simpson

The football supporters campaign group Fans Against Criminalisation, has called for the Act to be repealed, and that all charges made under it should be dropped and that all fans convicted under the law, who could not have been convicted under any other legislation should "at least" have the right to appeal.

The police chief was recently accused of being "irresponsible" by FAC after he warned that Scots fans should expect police to act over support for terrorist organisations.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins spoke out after the Fans Against Criminalisation campaign group were critical of him warning controversial Celtic fans group the Green Brigade to leave politics at the turnstiles or face being arrested.

Mr Higgins accepted Police Scotland recognises that there is potential for the Act "to be amended rather than repealed and would welcome the opportunity to participate in any such process".


The legislation came into force in 2012 following the Old Firm “shame game” between Rangers and Celtic in 2011.

It outlaws the singing of songs which "a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive" and which "would be likely to incite public disorder".

The law was passed by the then-SNP majority government but has been widely criticised by football fans.

"In our view there have been observable improvements in behaviour, particularly mass offensive singing," said ACC Higgins.

He added: "It is difficult to know how much of this improvement can be attributed to the Act alone and the University of Stirling evaluation of the Act makes the point that the legislation was one of a number of initiatives which collectively resulted in improved responses from bodies such as the police and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service."

He went on to warn that repealing the 2012 law could mean some people will avoid "charge and prosecution" as the behaviour was not previously illegal under pre-existing legislation.

"Until police reports are submitted and prosecutions completed under alternative legislation, it is not possible to quantify what proportion of cases will fall outside the scope of alternative legislation," said ACC Higgins.

He said that while Police Scotland recognised that repeal "presents challenges" it is not believed that "any of these challenges are insurmountable from a policing perspective".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Police Scotland routinely patrol senior football games in Scotland and have extensive experience of how the Act works in practice.

"Their comments that the repeal of the Act potentially 'would be interpreted by some people as a lifting of restrictions on their behaviour' echoes concerns raised by representatives of victims and equalities campaigners and should be taken extremely seriously."