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Protect your right to protest. What is the new Crime Bill and how does it relate to protesting?

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@johnbehets/ John Behets

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by the Conservatives on 9th March 2021, and it will make significant changes across the criminal justice system. 

The Bill will give police sweeping powers, including the capacity to shut down peaceful protests. It is a further indication of the future of policing when it comes to demonstrations, which will be reduced from now on. It does nothing to address the real challenges the system is facing. Instead, it approves more aggressive policies, arrests, offences and imprisonments, measures that fail to deliver real change in society.

 

What is going to change?

The right to protest is fundamental to a democratic society, and it is currently under attack in the UK.

The House of Commons has introduced a proposal of several changes in the law, which will improve the police's ability to proactively manage the most disruptive protests and provide punitive outcomes that reflect the seriousness of offences committed by protesters.

Police chiefs will be able to put more conditions on static protests, such as:

  • Impose a start and finish time

  • Set noise limits

  • Apply these rules to a demonstration by just one person

 

These are some of the changes that citizens will face:

  • From now on, if an individual refuses to follow police directions over how they should conduct their protest, they could be fined up to £2,500. 

  • It will also become a crime if a protester fails to follow restrictions that they "ought" to have known about, even if they have not received a direct order from an officer. 

  • There will be a new offence of "intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance". It is designed to stop people from occupying public spaces or hanging off bridges; basically employing protest tactics to make themselves both seen and heard. 

  • One final measure clarifies that damage to memorials could lead to up to 10 years in prison, following the toppling of slave trader statues last year.

 

Kill the Bill protests in Bristol

Bristol has been the epicentre of protests against the new Bill since it was approved by the House of Commons. The crackdown, however, has demonstrated the threat to protesting from the new policies.

Since day one, protesters and officers have clashed with over forty arrests and several injured (from both sides) today, as thousands turned out for the multiple marches organised since 15th March. During the past two weeks, some protests have erupted in violence at night. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned Friday's protests as "disgraceful" and tweeted: 

One Labour MP has called for an independent investigation into the policing of the most recent protest, after reports of journalists and marchers being injured. Daily Mirror journalist Matthew Dresch posted on a tweet "Police assaulted me at the Bristol protest even though I told them I was from the press. I was respectfully observing what was happening and posed no threat to any of the officers." You can find the video attached to the tweet here: https://bit.ly/3m4OdQO

The Bill allows police to criminalise anyone using civil disobedience and to take direct action tactics. These laws are a threat to any protest group that wants to raise awareness on any topic.

 

How does this relate to Sarah Everard?

@johnbehets/ John Behets

 

'This bill is liable to make the scenes we saw at Clapham Common the new normal' - Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK.

The right to peaceful protest is a principle around the world that allows citizens the ability to hold those in power to account. People's voices must be allowed to be heard. The shocking footage of police officers using disproportionate force against women attending a vigil for Sarah Everard on 13th March shows precisely why policing powers should not be extended in the way it is outlined in the Bill. 

The brutality by police on Clapham Common shows the institutional violence against women. The vigil was done to commemorate another innocent woman's death. The participants went to protest against the systematic abuse women have received all their lives, and they should have been able to do it in peace.

The crackdown and response of the police at the vigil was disproportionate and limited the right to protest. Moreover, between 2015-2018 there were almost 700 reports of domestic abuse against police officers (The Guardian) which shows that the supposed "protectors" are failing at their job. Rights of Women, a campaign group, says the Bill fails to introduce long-called-for measures that could reduce violence against women and girls.

 

Racism and discrimination

Sections of this Bill will disproportionately impact minoritised people and increase the racism and discrimination that they experience. 

For example, measures to enhance stop-and-search and restrict the right to Roam, precisely at a time when the UK Government should be working to address these issues. The police stop-and-search powers have repeatedly led to racist profiling of minorities across the country. Therefore, the powers being offered to officers under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill could lead to an increase of institutional discrimination.

 

The Bill has not been approved yet

The Bill has only been approved by the House of Commons, meaning that the House of Lords could still reject it. These next few days are crucial for anyone who is against the Bill to take action. 

Communicate your views to your MPs, the House of Lords and maintain your public opinion. 

Police forces will limit protests if they believe there is a good reason to impose restrictions on an event to ensure public safety or to prevent crime. This could lead to a restriction on the right to protest and could fail to respect human rights. The history of public protest tells us how the police have used their power inadequately, and leaving protests management to them will condemn innocent people as well as restrict people's rights of expression.

 

How to take action 

Firstly, visit the Toolkit at http://www.bit.ly/rejectthebill, it has everything you will need to take action.

Email & tweet the House of Lords. The Bill has been passed through the House of Commons, but it can still be rejected by the other house.

Email your MP. You can ask for support from your local politicians - that is what they are for.

Sign petitions & open letters

Government: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/579012

Green Peace: https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/the-right-to-protest

Netpol: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/protect-the-freedom-to-protest

Change: https://www.change.org/p/uk-parliament-kill-the-bill?source_location=topic_page

 

Read the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: 

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0268/JCHRfinalMEMO.pdf



 

Amnesty International UK Press Release 15 March

Urgent Campaign launched to halt Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 

Amnesty International is urging people across the UK to write to the Prime Minister calling on him to urgently halt the rushed passage of the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is receiving its second reading in the House of Commons today.

 

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said:

"The dangerous over-policing of Saturday's demonstration should sound an alarm bell right across the country.

"This Bill is liable to makes the scenes we saw at Clapham Common the new normal - it's a deeply worrying prospect.

"The Bill itself is so broad in scope that it is a threat to everybody. Threatening the rights to peaceful protest is only one alarming area of new policing powers, others relate to stop and search or restricting the rights to roam will only further entrench racism and discrimination within the criminal justice system.

"Temporary restrictions on our civil liberties during a time of pandemic are one thing - but a law that permanently restricts the right to peaceful protest is totally unacceptable.

"As the country hopefully begins the long recovery from coronavirus, we mustn't let restrictions on our basic right to protest remain a lingering symptom of this difficult time." 

 

People can write to the Prime Minister asking him to halt the Bill at www.amnesty.org.uk/righttoprotest



 

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