13 July 2012

The criminal law & mitey morphin' power Rangers...

I'm not your man for the football. I have no thoughts on the state of Scottish football, the liquidation of Rangers, or their strange, attenuated reincarnation, beyond the - hopefully uncontroversial - observation that corporations should pay their taxes, directors should be honest, not venal and negligent and gains got by theft and malpractice should not be rewarded. The collapse of some empires definitively should not be mourned. I've a weakness for stories of hubris whose disaster is royally visited upon itself, and have surveyed the engulfing calamity in that spirit. 

That said, I am interested in the law which Scotland has built up around football, most recently the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act of 2012, which you may remember I was and remain very much opposed to.  But bracket that.  What effect, if any, might Rangers' crashing out of the Scottish Premier League have on the implementation of legislation which was, as you'll recall, largely premised on the familiar spectre of the big and bitter Old Firm match, resounding with chant, singsong and mutual recrimination? I've been wondering if a peripheral section of the 2012 Act might not increase in significance.

Remember, the law primarily criminalises "offensive behaviour at regulated football matches". "Offensiveness" is defined exceedingly broadly. The definition of "regulated football matches" for the 2012 is largely borrowed from the Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006, which includes all games where one or both of the teams are members of the SPL and SFL, of the the Football League, the Football Association Premier League, the Football Conference or the League of Wales, or whether the Scottish national team is playing, whether at home or abroad. The 2012 Act is slightly more limited in its compass, and the offence it created:

2(1)(b) does not include a regulated football match outside Scotland unless the match involves—
(i) a national team appointed to represent Scotland, or
(ii) a team representing a club that is a member of a football association or league based in Scotland.

As you may recall, the "offensive behaviour" criminalised by this Act applies to folk in, entering, leaving or on their way to a football ground where a regulated match is taking place.  It also applies in:

2(3) "... any place (other than domestic premises) at which such a match is televised."

Rangers' fans may not see their team playing in the SPL, and if consigned to the third division, their games presumably won't be televised, but assuming that they are sporting enthusiasts with a certain attachment to the spectacle of top-flight of Scottish football booting the bladder about, they might at the very minimum decamp to a comfortable pub to watch their inveterate foes and former competitors fighting it out in their absence.  In the final controversial stages of the Football Bill, various Scottish politicians and senior policemen envisaged ostentatious police raids on pubs where regulated football matches were broadcast, silencing singers and penalising sectarian expressions wherever they risked creating "public disorder". At the time, this mostly came off as the empty, "tough" rhetoric of political poseurs, but I wonder if the provision might not become more important, as Rangers fans are cleared off of Premier Division terraces, and a segment of their supporters are obliged to take their sectarian ditties with them - presumably - to the pub.


  1. Frankie Boyle tweeted "Rangers to Division 3. Every other Saturday one if Scotland's smaller towns will get to learn what life was like in the time of the Vikings."

    Funny but also not funny. Because essentially true.

  2. Groundskeeper Willie15 July 2012 at 11:38

    The legislation was unnecessary in the first place and only came about because of Salmond wanting to be seen to be doing something.

    And any pretended justification for it has now been superseded by events.

    There's a lesson there for all legislators.

  3. I linked back to your earlier article and found a reference to "plain old nat".

    Quite upset by it. I always thought of myself as better looking than that.

  4. I humbly beg pardon, oldnat!

    Groundskeeper Willie

    As I recall the Football Act has a duty on ministers to report to parliament on its application. It'll be interesting to see what impact these changes in the SPL will have on that.