Do we want to still have a right to protest in 2022? The Police Bill must be stopped at all costs

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill must be stopped at all costs.

This Bill would in effect remove the right to protest; it would give police officers the power to ban or place restrictions of their choice upon public demonstrations.

This Bill would mean that someone could be locked up for 10 years if they put others ‘at risk of’ disease, or at risk of ‘serious inconvenience’ or ‘serious annoyance’.

This Bill comes after freedom of association has effectively been suspended for months, with organisers slapped with £10,000 fines and demonstrations violently broken up by police. This Bill would mean that lockdown restrictions on protest become a permanent condition.

Write to your MP and urge them to vote against this liberty-robbing Bill. Sign the petition on the Parliament Website.

The new restrictions in this Bill include:

1. Change to restrictions on demonstrations

Clauses 54 to 60 of the Police Bill amend 1986 Public Order Act powers for the police to restrict demonstrations. Under the 1986 Act, the police can impose restrictions if they judge that a demonstration ‘may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community’. The new Bill would mean that the police can additionally impose restrictions if a demonstration has an ‘impact’ on those nearby. This includes if the noise of the demonstration

(a) may result in the intimidation or harassment of persons of reasonable firmness with the characteristics of persons likely to be in the vicinity, or (b) it may cause such persons to suffer serious unease, alarm or distress.

This broad condition could be applied to almost any public demonstration, since the point of demonstrating is to make a noise and gain the attention of those nearby. It is also the case that most demonstrations deal with contentious issues, rather than those upon which there is universal agreement, and therefore that some of those nearby may experience ‘serious unease’ when they observe or hear this demonstration.

The Bill allows someone to be found guilty of an offence even if they didn’t know about the restrictions upon the demonstration; it only requires that they ‘ought to know’ about these conditions.

The Bill gives wide open powers to the senior police officer to interpret these vague terms, and to ‘give directions’ imposing any restrictions they think necessary upon the demonstration to prevent this ‘impact’. This could include restrictions upon numbers, noise levels, and anything else they think necessary, including an outright ban.

The Bill also allows for the Secretary of State to in the future specify the meaning of these restrictions, and to state when they should and shouldn’t apply. (This would occur by statutory instrument and therefore without the review of parliament).

This Bill does not mean that no demonstrations would occur, but rather that they would only occur with police/ministerial approval, and therefore that there is no free expression. It effectively gives the police a veto on the expressions permitted in public spaces, and future secretary of states the power to write the law on public demonstrations by executive decree.

2. New law on ‘public nuisance’

Section 59 of the Police Bill creates a statutory offence of public nuisance, replacing the common law offence.

The bill creates a new offence when an act, or failure to act, ’causes serious harm to…a section of the public’, or ‘obstructs the public or a section of the public in the exercise or enjoyment of a right’.

Serious harm is defined as when a section of the public –

(a) suffers death, personal injury or disease, (b) suffers loss of, or damage to, property, (c) suffers serious distress, serious annoyance, serious inconvenience or serious loss of amenity, or (d) is put at risk of suffering anything mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (c)

This means that someone is guilty of the offence if their actions put someone else at risk of disease, serious annoyance or serious inconvenience

All power to the state

This Bill continues and extends all the pernicious trends in law-making over the past decade or two. The tendency of this law is to give the state vaguer and more open-ended powers, that can be applied in any way it sees fit. These trends can be summarised as:

1. Increasingly subjective conditions. Traditionally, criminal law criminalised acts of actual harm – actual damage or infringement upon property or person. Today’s law increasingly criminalises vague or subjective acts. So instead of ‘disorder’ and ‘damage’ there is the neutral term ‘impacts’, which is defined as ‘intimidation’, ‘unease’, and so on.
2. Removes the requirement for something bad to actually happen. The common law offence of public nuisance required that the effect of an act is to endanger the life, health or property of the public. The Police Bill creates an offence on the vaguer specification that harm MAY be caused, or there is a RISK of a certain nuisance.
3. Gives arbitrary power to officials. Under this Bill, senior police chiefs can impose any restrictions upon demonstrations as they see fit, while ministers can write in the meaning of a law as they see fit.
4. Removes intent. The Public Order Act criminalised someone who ‘knowingly fails to comply’ with restrictions. The current bill does not require that you knew about a restriction on a demonstration, only that you ought to have known.

This Bill, if it becomes law, will take away the right to protest, and represent a significant increase of the power of the state over individuals and groups. It must be opposed at all costs.

Write to your MP and urge them to vote against this liberty-robbing Bill.