Flying certain flags ‘in a provocative manner’ could be a criminal offence according to a ‘restricted’ police document.
An official Police Scotland list of flags which could be a criminal offence to display includes the Irish tricolour, the Catalan Israeli and Palestinian flags and the Catalan and Basque flags.
Flying flags on the list in a ‘provocative manner’ could be a criminal act according to the police document.
The ‘restricted’ document issued to police officers—obtained was obtained through a Freedom of Information act by the Herald on Sunday includes pictures of symbols and flags which ‘if flown in a provocative manner’ could potentially be viewed as a crime.
The Vatican flag has been included in an official Police Scotland list of flags which could be deemed a criminal offence to display.
Police Scotland’s list of flags issued to officers contains short descriptions of the significance of each flag and references and the perceived links to sectarianism.
Some of the flags included Vatican, Israel, Irish Tricolour, Palestine, Basque, and Catalan.
The restricted police document states: “Whilst the display of the following flags is not an offence, in itself, if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered, constitute a common law Breach of the Peace or an offence under Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2000.
“If they are altered to contain a reference to a proscribed organisation they may constitute an offence under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
“Irrespective of the above, the possession of these flags within a football ground may constitute a breach of ground regulations.
“As such, if these flags are seen, the stadium control room should be contacted; they will liaise with the football club and advise officers as to the appropriate course of action.”
Officers can charge perpetrators with Breach of the Peace or an offence under Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licencing (Scotland) Act 2010 and, if convicted in court, offenders who fly ‘banned’ flags could face up to five years behind bars.
Police Scotland would not discuss specific examples of criminal flag flying but according to reports the list was provided to officers overseeing DUP leader Arlene Foster’s visit to Fife in June for an Orange Order event.
Chief Superintendent John McKenzie from Police Scotland’s Safer Communities said: “Often flags themselves are not the issue but the criminal conduct that accompanies them is.
“This could include, but is not limited to, threatening gestures or words, or flags being amended to show support for a proscribed terrorist group or amendments which constitute a hate crime.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is not an offence to fly the flag of the Vatican or any other country.”
Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, who represents Catalan politician Clara Ponsati, said: “I think the idea the flying the flag of any country could be construed as a criminal offence is a step too far.
“The danger of such guidelines is that they leave too many grey areas. Which means that it could take one person in a crowd of several thousand to be offended by the flying of a Catalan flag to press the button for an arrest.
“As a defence lawyer I appreciate circumstances which could give rise to a public order offence however my concern is impact on freedom of expression and the right to identify with struggles for freedom internationally – surely that should not be made a crime in a democracy?”
The Irish and Israeli embassy also declined to comment on the inclusion of the tricolour and other flags associated with the Republic of Ireland.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: “It would be very concerning if the Vatican flag was in any circumstance deemed offensive.
“It has been flown proudly in Scotland on the occasion of two Papal visits without upset or incident and its use should not be restricted in any way.”