This business of legislating to combat sectarianism related to football matches is not proving to be the easy ride that the Scottish Government appears to have assumed at the outset.
The bill that they expected to see waved through the Scottish Parliament in a few days last June continues to attract some serious questions and criticisms; indeed its very rationale remains a matter of some doubt.
Unfortunately the report on the bill from the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee has done nothing to help point the way forward. On what should have been a non-party political matter, the committee has divided along party lines as to whether a need for the bill has ben established.
The Nationalist blogger Lallans Peat Worrier is singularly unimpressed with his MSP colleagues' conclusion that the Government has "made the case that there are gaps in the law that do not enable the police and prosecutors to target offensive behaviour effectively", while in almost the same breath requesting "an assessment from the Lord Advocate of the efficacy of [the new s 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010] in obtaining convictions".
Then there was the acceptance before the committee by both the Lord Advocate and the minister in charge, Roseanna Cunningham, that the bill could not provide complete clarity but context would be fundamental in determining the criminality of behaviour. Its report notes "a general view amongst witnesses that aspects of the section 1 offence remain unclear", alongside the committee's own view that it is "important to ensure that the legislation itself is robust". Yet it then invites the Government to consider whether the measure should be widened to catch other forms of expression of hatred than simply sectarianism.
Human rights issues keep cropping up. It is said that there is a potential gap in the law in that breach of the peace, as now defined, will not catch "a substantial proportion of offensive behaviour related to football". Yet that definition has been reshaping the common law so as to ensure it remained human rights compliant. Is it possible for a statute then to introduce a wider and almost certainly vaguer test without in turn falling foul of the Convention?
The Government's concession, announced on Friday, that a freedom of speech clause will be inserted in the second part of the bill - that dealing with social media-type communications, I think - seems unlikely to affect these issues.
After the Government backed down in its attempt to treat the bill as an emergency measure, I expressed the view that interested parties should co-operate with the Government in attempting to achieve a workable measure that would address any perceived defects in the law pending a proper review by the Scottish Law Commission. We do not seem to have moved very far in that direction. SNP MSPs in particular, holding as they do a majority in the Parliament, would do well to remember that there is more to creating a civilized society than passing well-meaning laws. Serious questions remain to be addressed over this measure and they need to be considered fully by all sides.