Statement by JADC on the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Dangerous new legislation is an attack on the right to protest
Julian Assange said in an Occupy London protest in October 2011: “this movement is not about the destruction of Law is about the construction of Law’.
Political protest is the cradle of law making in society. Attempts to restrict it touches upon the fundamental cornerstones of our democratic rights.
The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill now laid before the House of Commons, is seeking to even further restrict the right to protest. It explicitly aims to “strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to Parliament”. The Bill’s Explanatory Notes make the purpose clear: ‘Recent changes in the tactics employed by certain protesters, for example gluing themselves to buildings or vehicles, blocking bridges or otherwise obstructing access to buildings such as the Palace of Westminster and newspaper printing works, have highlighted some gaps in current legislation.’
Next week UK Govt will rush Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill through the House of Commons
The Bill will give Police more powers to clamp down on peaceful protests
— Liz Saville Roberts AS/MP (@LSRPlaid) March 13, 2021
The Good Law project points out that the Bill will give ‘new powers to the police to restrict peaceful protests’ which would ‘legislate that right out of meaningful existence.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel expressed outrage at Black Lives Matter protests saying “protesting in the way that people did last summer was not the right way at all …. Those protests were dreadful.” On Extinction Rebellion tactics she said they represent“a shameful attack on our way of life. The very criminals who disrupt our free society must be stopped.‘
The legislation arises from both the authoritarian and repressive instincts of this Government which sees ‘extremism’ even in peaceful protest and from senior sections of the police lobbying for more powers to repress protests despite the extensive powers they already possess (and use and misuse) under the 1986 Public Order Act. That Act was introduced in the wake of the widespread social and political unrest of the 1980s. But even these powers are now deemed inadequate. For Patel and the Government the only legitimate protest is one that has no impact or effect whatsoever.
The legislation would:
· amend the 1986 Public Order Act which already gives the police sweeping powers to impose restrictions on venue, route and numbers if they believe a demonstration risks “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community”. The new Bill adds ‘noise’ to these risks. The police will be able to impose restrictions where the noise of protest “may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or “serious unease, alarm or distress” to bystanders.
· remove the defence that a demonstrator was unaware of police restrictions on an event. Instead, the new laws apply if they “ought to know” of the restriction.
· apply the new laws to one-person protests.
· expand the “controlled area” around Parliament where certain protest activities are prohibited. It would also add obstructing access to the Parliamentary Estate to the activities prohibited in the “controlled area”.
· abolish the common law offence of public nuisance and replaces it with a statutory offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”.
· increase the maximum penalty for criminal damage of a memorial – like the statue to Bristol slave trader Edward Colston pulled down last year – from 3 months to 10 years.
The police are routinely dangerously aggressive during protests and any new powers will only encourage them to go further. They could not even contain their violence during a recent vigil for murder victim Sarah Everard despite the fact that one of their own serving police officers has been charged with this vile crime. At the vigil police were seen wrestling women to the ground and handcuffing them.
The JADC condemns in the strongest sense these reactionary proposals which criminalise protest. Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Protest is not only a right but a duty in the face of the many social, economic, environmental and political injustices in this society. Change only comes about by organising protest. The JADC campaigned and protested about the lies, injustices and denial of rights in the Julian Assange case thus helping to reach and change public opinion.
It is war, climate change and injustice which cause ’alarm and distress’ to the mass of people. No government has the right to silence dissent and prevent protest. Challenge the proposed new laws. Do not let the voices of progress be silenced.
Today the government announced plans for a new crackdown on freedom to protest with its wide-ranging, draconian and illiberal Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. We urge you to oppose planned changes to the law – as a first step, sign our petition https://t.co/VuINEIvkpA pic.twitter.com/ch6OcpNXhn
— Netpol (@netpol) March 9, 2021