The world is still reeling from Saturday’s shocking images of women being held down by Metropolitan police officers as they attended a peaceful vigil in memory of Sarah Everard. There have been many calls for the resignation of the Chief Commissioner, Cressida Dick which misses a more significant and pressing issue.
These events provide a very disturbing backcloth to today’s debate in Parliament concerning the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021. This is a bill that threatens to massively restrict the right to lawful protest. It is one that has sneaked under the radar while we have been looking in other directions!
The Government’s own fact sheet make its intentions clear, they are to –
“Widen the range of conditions that the police can impose on static protests, to match existing police powers to impose conditions on marches”
This can include powers to impose start and end times. So, if a march or event goes over its allotted time, will police be able to repeat the scenes we saw on Saturday?
The new law with give the Home Secretary wider powers to control protest. Factors that might be taken into account include noise! Who will decide what level of noise is acceptable? At what point will noise reach a level that officers can wade in as they did in Clapham?
The definition of ‘serious harm that might be caused by an event will be extended to include – ‘serious annoyance’. Annoyance to whom? Most protests are directed towards the government of the day. Presumably they will be ‘annoyed’ by some actions. In fact, the nature of protest is that someone will disagree and therefore be unhappy. This could cover almost all events.
There will also be stricter rules concerning organisers’ knowledge of restrictions. The fact sheet says that organisers – “cover their ears” (presumably not because of the noise!). In other words they claim to be unaware. The new rules will introduce a new concept of constructive knowledge i.e. that they should know.
This is a very disturbing interference with our right to free speech and to assembly.
We all have a rights under the European Convention on Human Rights including –
Article 10 freedom of expression.
Article 11 freedom of assembly and association.
These are not absolute rights. The gov’t can limit those rights if it is in the public interest and proportionate. Whether these limits on our rights are in the public interest or proportionate is highly debatable and could lead to many more disturbing scenes.
We know already that the Home Secretary described the Black Lives Matters protests as dreadful –
There now appears to be a backlash to prevent protest and to put wider powers in the hands of the Police. In the light of Saturday’s events is this the sort of society we want to be part of?
We all need to speak out about this. One thing we can all do is contact our MP and encourage them to vote against the bill at all stages. You can find your MP here –
Thanks to Chris Topping at https://www.jacksonlees.co.uk/broudiejacksoncanter who has contributed to this post.