Courts 'too sparing' in punishing football hooligans

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The Independent Online

Courts must take tougher action against football hooligans in the run-up to next year's World Cup, the Lord Chancellor said yesterday.

Lord Irvine of Lairg said magistrates had been "inconsistent and sparing" in using their new powers to ban hooligans from travelling abroad. Of the 448 relevant cases dealt with by courts during the last football season, only 155 banning orders had been imposed.

Speaking to magistrates at their annual conference in London, Lord Irvine said: "Now England has qualified for the World Cup, the powers of the court to prevent troublemakers travelling abroad will again be in the limelight."

But he said there appeared to be some inconsistency in the application of the law. He said: "Let me confirm Parliament's intention under the Football (Disorder) Act where the legislative criteria is satisfied there is no discretion and the court must make an order."

He said banning orders were an "important tool in tackling violence and disorder" at football matches. "However, the power to impose a ban following a relevant conviction is being used sparingly," he said.

He urged the magistracy to play a key role in implementing Parliament's intentions in the run-up to the World Cup.

Football banning orders can be used against hooligans when they are convicted of a relevant football crime. The magistrate has the power to confiscate a passport or find other ways to prevent a convicted criminal from attending football matches. Lord Irvine also urged magistrates to make greater use of anti-social behaviour orders, which he said must be properly enforced to stop offenders flouting the law while boosting public confidence.

The Football (Disorder) Act 2000 was introduced in the aftermath of the violence during the Euro 2000 football championships in Belgium.