THOUSANDS are supporting a new campaign for the scrapping of a controversial law designed to stamp out sectarian abuse at football matches in Scotland.


Supporters group Fans Against Criminalisation aim to lobby the Scottish Government to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 on the grounds that it is "fundamentally illiberal and unnecessarily restricts freedom of expression".

They say it has "achieved nothing other than to criminalise otherwise law-abiding citizens and discriminate against football supporters in an unwarranted and unjustifiable way".

More than 4,500 people have already back a petition newly launched in advance of the August deadline for the government review of the law. That is when Stirling University researchers are due to publish their findings into how the law is operating.

The FAC organised a mass rally attended by thousands in 2013 to protest at what were then new laws.

The Scottish Government pushed through the Act in a bid to get tough on sectarianism in the aftermath of the Old Firm 'shame game' in 2011.

Holyrood introduced the legislation in January 2012 and promised a re-examination after two full football seasons of operation and to report back to Parliament one year later.

The FAC said: "Whatever your views regarding the chants and songs of football fans, the use of the law in this way is wrong and has created a poisonous atmosphere between supporters and police. That is in no-one's interest.

"We call on all citizens to sign the petition and support the repeal of this unjust, unworkable and dangerous piece of legislation."

The FAC has asked for meetings with representatives of all parties and one has already taken place with Patrick Harvie co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party.

A law lords appeal court judgement in March said: "The main, but not exclusive, focus is on the behaviour of certain Celtic and Rangers fans with their long standing attachment to opposing factions involved in the politics of Ireland, and Ulster in particular.

"The Act was created to stop anyone here having a political view, and expressing it, on the politics of the land from which many of us came and to which many of us hold a continuing attachment. It is decision time and the decision is to actively oppose this Act now or live with the consequences for some time to come."

The new move comes a matter of weeks after it emerged Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice Clerk rejected an appeal by two fans who were convicted of charges surrounding the singing of the pro-IRA Roll of Honour song at a match between Hibs and Celtic at Easter Road on October 19, 2013. He rejected a claim that a charge under the controversial law led to the contravention of two convicted fans' human rights.

In February, last year, the Irish Brigade band were asked by the FAC to cover the Roll of Honour Irish rebel song to highlight their opposition to the Act. It reached the UK Top 40 Singles chart.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has previously raised the "potential lack of legal certainty" over the Act as required by Articles six and seven of the European Convention on Human Rights during the legislation's formation.

It highlighted European Court of Human Right cases which found: "An offence must be clearly defined in law. This condition is satisfied where the individual can know from the wording of the relevant provision and, if need be, with the assistance of the court's interpretation of it, what acts and omissions will make him liable."

SHRC also stressed the fundamental importance of the right to freedom of expression and the role of Parliament in ensuring that the restrictions on this right contained in the Bill met the tests of legality, legitimate aim and proportionality.

Almost half of all people taken to court last year under the laws designed to stamp out sectarian abuse at football matches were acquitted, figures show.

There was action taken against 161 people in 2013/14 with not guilty outcomes in 74 cases (48 per cent).

FAC describes itself as "an independent umbrella group comprising the Green Brigade, Celtic Trust, Celtic Supporters Association, Affiliation of Registered Celtic Supporters Clubs and Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs.