MSPs Question Sectarian Bill

Minsiters are being given the chance to examine the details of the plans for the new sectarianism laws that target racists, bigots and sectarianism at football matches.

The draft Bill 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 up to five years under the proposals.

Community Safety minister Roseanna Cunningham and assistant chief constable Campbell Corrigan, chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland's football sub-committee, will give evidence at Holyrood's Justice Committee.

Les Gray, of the Scottish Police Federation, and Dr David McArdle, from Stirling Law School, will also speak, alongside Bill McVicar and Alan McCreadie from the Law Society of Scotland.

The Bill is being fast-tracked through parliament so the law is in place in time for the new football season on July 23.

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.

Ms Cunningham said, "Racism, bigotry and sectarianism are not welcome in Scotland.

It is totally unacceptable and those who perpetuate this hatred will be punished through the full force of the law.

These new laws will send out a clear message that there is no place for bigots in a modern-day Scotland."

However, the Law Society of Scotland and the Church of Scotland have raised concerns about fast-tracking the legislation.

Speaking before the meeting, committee convener Christine Grahame said, "The Justice Committee feels that due to the speed at which this important Bill is scheduled to go through parliament, it is vital that we have some independent scrutiny from key stakeholders.

Though there will be no stage one report, we hope that over the course of these evidence sessions our committee will prove to be a valuable resource in informing the Scottish Parliament's scrutiny of this Bill."