Following my tweet last night, which came shortly after a statement from Rangers Football Club that praised the restraint shown by fans, there was much feigned outrage by social media trolls.
The predictable diatribe of illiterate rantings by internet obsessives was, surprisingly, littered with some sensible points of debate which were raised- naturally- by more normal and sensible persons.
I tweeted the following;
“Rangers fans are legally protected if they entered the field of play to use reasonable force to protect a player who was under attack.”
It is, of course, beyond the pot noodle eating bedroom trolls to dissect such a paragraph and understand its meaning, so understandably many of the intellectually challenged internet warriors flew into a frenzy.
Responses also came from a number of lawyers- some agreeing with what I had highlighted, others disagreeing. One particular law firm- McGovern Court Lawyers- managed to miss the point entirely and point out that the criteria for self defence (or defence of another) excludes rioting.
They are entirely correct and but this would only have been relevant had I said “legal protections are there for fans who entered the pitch to riot”. This is vastly different than “…to use reasonable force to protect a player who was under attack.”
Rangers fans who entered the field of play in order to protect a player who was coming under attack, by a violent mob, would not have been entering to riot, but rather to intervene to protect the life or safety of another.
One must be mindful of the fact that the policing and stewards had lost control, Rangers players were surrounded and under attack, therefore- I believe- an intervention to disrupt an ongoing assault would be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.
It is, of course, ludicrous to suggest that in normal circumstances it would be reasonable and proportionate to run onto the pitch to intervene in a fight between opposing players or even if a fan- or small number of fans- had encroached on the playing area. In such a circumstance it would be a matter for the police and stadium security to fulfil their duties.
However, in law context is everything and in the context of the events on Saturday the stadium authorities had lost control of a rapidly evolving and ugly situation.
It is also important to note that many thousands of Hibs fans surged onto the pitch and charged violently whilst provocatively waving Irish tri-colours, which are understandably seen by many Unionists as representative of the terrorist IRA and the Irish Government that assisted in arming and assisting that murderous organisation.
Such provocation- whilst not in itself reason to enter the playing area- can also, in the circumstances, not be discounted in mitigating the reasons why Rangers fans would have felt fearful and defensive.
In those circumstances it is entirely reasonable that families with children would be fearful for their safety as a baying mob- who had completely overrun the policing and security staff- marauded across the pitch towards them. The most obvious reaction for those with children would have been to head for the exit, however in the panic and confusion there was obviously a likelihood that an urgent surge in panic towards the exit could have caused children, or others, to be crushed or seriously injured.
Therefore, in order to prevent such a tragic event, it would be entirely reasonable to conclude that adults, especially single men, would move away from the exits in order to leave them clear for fleeing women and children. The only option in this circumstance was clearly to move towards the pitch.
It is clear from all footage that Rangers players and supporters were vastly outnumbered. One media outlet reported in the region of 5,000 Hibernian supporters and a few hundred Rangers fans. If ever there was a need for self defence, then surely such a circumstance justifies a reasonable and proportionate use of force to protect yourself and/or others.
In determining the test for self defence it is always prudent to read the worlds of Lord Parker CJ in Chisam (1963) 47 Cr App Rep 130 :
“…. where a forcible and violent felony is attempted upon the person of another, the party assaulted, or his servant, or any other person present, is entitled to repel force by force, and, if necessary, to kill the aggressor ….”.
It is clear from the words of Lord Parker that a reasonable and proportionate intervention was lawful under the circumstances. Instigating an attack and/or acting provocatively or using excessive force would not be lawful.
For example; chasing a Hibernian supporter who was running away towards his own end and attacking him would not be self defence. In contrast, intervening as a mob of Hibernian fans attacked a Rangers player, coach or supporter would be entirely justified.
Therefore, if a Rangers supporter entered the playing area- in a genuine attempt to intervene to prevent violence upon another or themselves, or acted in self defence having moved towards the pitch for safety reasons- then I believe such actions would be justified.
In such a circumstance, it appears that one of the obvious methods to challenge any prosecution that followed would be for the defence to lodge notices, to the Court and the Crown, in advance of any trial under Section 78 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 for self defence and/or provocation.
It should also be noted that “excitement” or “joy” is not defence for causing criminal damage or engaging in acts of violence or provocation.
Therefore, the attempts by some commentators to excuse or laugh off the actions of Hibs fans are little short of disgraceful and comes very close to condoning the vile behaviour of those Hibs fans that invaded the pitch to cause damage and/or violence.