The following is a guest post by Chris Brain, a foreign law intern working in the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress under the supervision of Clare Feikert-Ahalt, senior foreign law specialist covering the United Kingdom. He has previously written about UK – New Immigration and Asylum Bill Provides Fundamental Reforms. This post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series and describes the football banning orders in England and Wales.
Football (soccer) provides an opportunity for people across the United Kingdom (UK) to follow their sport, travel, and meet and mix with other fans both on a domestic and international level. While the majority of football fans are well-behaved and attend games to support their team, there are some who engage in football-related criminal activities – predominantly violent crimes, which peaked during the 1970’s and 1980’s. As a way to combat football-related violence and disorder, Football Banning Orders (FBOs) were introduced by the Football Spectators Act 1989 to punish those who commit football-related crimes and to deter others from committing football-related offenses both in and outside of the stadium.
Although football-related offenses have drastically fallen since the 1970’s and 1980’s, football violence and other criminal activities still persist – as was seen in London during the European Championships in July 2021. Currently, some of the most common offenses related to football are violent disorder, public disorder, alcohol-related offenses, entering the football pitch, and throwing missiles onto the football pitch. It is reported that during the 2019/20 season in England and Wales, there were 1,203 football-related arrests and 1,621 FBOs in force with 360 of those FBOs being issued during that season.
What is a Football Banning Order (FBO)?
An FBO is an order imposed by a court on a person who has been involved with a football-related criminal offense, which prohibits that person from attending future football matches. An FBO is usually imposed after a person has been convicted of an offense, but may also be imposed following a complaint by the police or Crown Prosecution Service. In other words, an FBO can also be issued when there has been no criminal charge or conviction, but the person has contributed to football-related violence and imposing an FBO would prevent further incidents.
When are FBOs Considered?
FBOs may be considered when a person has been involved in a criminal offense, which is connected to football, regardless of whether the offense was committed inside, or outside of, the football stadium. As many football-related offenses cause direct harm to law-abiding fans and/or those who work in football grounds, and have an indirect impact on the reputation of English and Welsh football there is a presumption in favor of prosecution and obtaining an FBO for these offenses.
When a person is convicted of a football-related offense, the prosecution is under a legal obligation to apply for an FBO against the defendant. Further, where a person is convicted of a “relevant offence” – one that is listed in the legislation, including violence, use of weapons, and unauthorized entry – a judge must impose an FBO.
What is the Effect of an FBO?
In addition to prohibiting an individual from attending football matches within the UK, an FBO includes two mandatory restrictions. An individual subject to an FBO must report to a police station within five days of the FBO being issued and also must surrender their passport up to five days before an international football match until the end of that match. An FBO may include other restrictions such as prohibiting the individual from using public transport, or visiting town centers and pubs, on match days in order to prevent violence and disorder.
An FBO lasts between three to five years unless the person has been sent to prison immediately upon conviction, in which case an FBO will last between six to ten years. A person may apply to lift the FBO after it has been in force for two thirds of its duration. For example, if an FBO was imposed by the court for three years, the person may apply to have it lifted after two years.
A person who fails to comply with their FBO may be criminally charged and sentenced to a maximum of six months imprisonment and/or receive an unlimited fine (a fine of any amount). Only 15 people were reported to have breached their FBO during the 2019/20 season in England and Wales.
Recent News and the Future of FBOs
In July 2021, the final of the European Championships (EURO 2020)at Wembley Stadium in London, England played in its first major final in 55 years. This event saw people attempt to unlawfully enter the stadium without a ticket, engage in violence and disorder and attack Italian fans. Many people have been arrested since the final and have had, or likely will have, FBOs imposed.
Additionally, the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, has announced that people who racially abuse footballers online will also receive FBOs, a move supported by the English Premier League. This development aims to tackle the prevalence of football-related racial abuse online, which is commonly seen within the UK and abroad.