Home Secretary Priti Patel created the legislation following last year’s Black Lives Matter movement, and Extinction Rebellion protests
If passed, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and CourtsBill will give police in England and Wales more power to impose conditions on non-violent protests – including those deemed too noisy or a nuisance
Home Secretary Priti Patel created the legislation following last year’s Black Lives Matter movement, and Extinction Rebellion protests, calling those who took part “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals” after people glued themselves to public transport and entrances to Parliament.
She denounced their direct action and civil disobedience tactics as “a shameful attack on our way of life, our economy and the livelihoods of the hard-working majority”.
Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, Black Lives Matter protests swept the globe, demanding racial justice - but Patel characterised them as “dreadful”, and labelled protestors as “hooligans and thugs”.
Now, the government wants to make important changes to the law, that will restrict the right to protest.
The bill will allow police “to take a more proactive approach in managing highly disruptive protests causing serious disruption to the public”, with those convicted liable to fines or jail terms.
The Human Rights Barrister Adam Wagner has previously said the bill will “hugely expand” police powers.
“The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill going through Parliament tomorrow would hugely expand their powers to allow them to stop protests which would cause “serious unease” and create criminal penalties for people who cause “serious annoyance”,” he said.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill going through Parliament tomorrow would hugely expand their powers to… https://t.co/pGyPbb73eL
“This would effectively put the current situation where Covid regulations have given police too much power over our free speech rights on a permanent footing.”
Gracie Bradley, director of human rights organisation Liberty, said: “Parts of this Bill will facilitate discrimination and undermine protest, which is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. We should all be able to stand up for what we believe in, yet these proposals would give the police yet more powers to clamp down on protest.”
The new laws are a threat to any protest group who take to the streets, making it an offence to cause “serious annoyance” or “inconvenience”.
It will reinstate the offence of creating a public nuisance into common law - and by such logic, a teddy bear’s picnic, if deemed sufficiently annoying, could surely be a cause for prosecution.
The police will impose start and finish times on protests, as well as “maximum noise limits”, and the bill will make it easier to convict protesters for ignoring conditions placed on a protest.
The area around Parliament will once again be a “controlled area” - giving police powers to shut down protest and rallies outside Parliament.
In response to the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last year, the maximum penalty for criminal damage of a memorial will increase from three months to ten years.
Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy previously tweeted: “The @Conservatives’ new Police Bill would mean you could get a longer sentence for damaging a statue of a slave owner than the starting point for rape. @UKLabour will vote against.”
The @Conservatives’ new Police Bill would mean you could get a longer sentence for damaging a statue of a slave own… https://t.co/eSvJIpl0k7
Police will also have new powers to target one-person protests if they are causing “noise” that may result in “unease, distress or alarm”, so activists will be unable to individually target offices, banks and businesses.
Additionally, the Police bill threatens access to the countryside and will criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities, through greater powers enforced against “unauthorised encampments” - a move which was threatened in the 2019 Tory manifesto.
Labour MP for Hemsworth, Jon Trickett tweeted: “I wake up this morning full of foreboding for our country. Today’s Policing Bill isn’t about the traditional idea of law based on consent. It’s about a major step on the road to authoritarianism and suppression of dissent.”
I wake up this morning full of foreboding for our country.
Today's Policing Bill isn't about the traditional idea… https://t.co/Q9dhMZsAcf
The bill has sparked a wave of demonstrations across England, known as Kill the Bill protests.
The first Kill the Bill protest in Bristol on March 21 descended into a riot, with subsequent rallies on March 23 and 26 also ending in clashes between the police and protesters. A further demonstration on March 30 passed off peacefully.
Several have taken place across the country this weekend.
Although the initial protests were held against Covid guidance, the protests are now lawful – providing organisers submit a risk assessment and take steps to ensure the gatherings are safe – following an easing of restrictions in England.