One of my objections to the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill is that legislation already exists which is suitable and indeed much wider in scope than the proposed offence in Section 1 of the Bill. In particular I have identified Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 as a suitable alternative to Breach of the Peace.
I wrote to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) requesting information from the in terms of Section 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA). This request was in relation to the number of reports made to them by the police for offences under Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. Today I received the response to that FOISA request and the information makes for interesting reading.
Section 38 came into force on Wednesday 6 October 2010 and since that date COPFS has received a total of 11,414 charges of Section 38. That is a significant number. I also sought information as to how these charges were being marked and what the outcomes were. To date 461 of these reports were dealt with by way of Solemn Court proceedings and 7,617 were dealt with by way of Summary Court Proceedings. No Action was taken in 1,163 of the cases and as at 23 June 2011 there were 286 reports where no decision had been taken. The remaining charges were dealt with by way of a “direct Measure” such as Fiscal Fines (653), warnings (554) and compensation (23).
Of the cases that went to court the stats were as follows:
Convicted: 88 (19%)
Acquitted: 73 (16%)
Proceedings on going: 258 (56%)
No Further Action: 14 (3%)
Not Indicted: 28 (6%)
Convicted: 3,474 (46%)
Acquitted: 1,359 (18%)
Proceedings on going: 2,419 (32%)
No Further Action: 365 (4%)
So, it would appear that the police are using these powers. I did not seek information as to how many of these reports were football related, partly because I thought that such information was unlikely to be available on cost grounds (I suspect that a manual interrogation of each case would have to have been conducted to establish this, based on my limited knowledge of the COPFS systems from some years ago and previous FOI requests to COPFS).
The legislation is less than one year old and it would be, in my view, foolish to introduce new offences when statutory offences already exist that cover the conduct seeking to be included within the ambit of the new offence at this stage.