The government’s Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (the Policing Bill) reaches a crucial stage this week. The measures are designed to control political challenges by threatening dissenters with disproportionate punishment, effectively scaring people into forfeiting their right to protest. Many people are aware that this Bill is a threat to basic civil liberties but don’t realise how much worse it has become following a series of amendments that have been slipped into the Bill at a late stage, without proper scrutiny or debate. These amendments would:
Criminalise any protest that might “interfere” with infrastructures such as roads, railways, oil refineries and printing presses. This could be used to ban all effective protests, including protests against airport expansion and picketing by unions taking industrial action.
Criminalise protesters who attach themselves to another person, to an object, or to land (“locking on”). This was one of the forms of protest used by the suffragettes in their campaign for votes for women and has been used successfully by road protesters and Extinction Rebellion.
Greatly expand police “stop and search” powers, allowing the police to stop and search people or vehicles if they suspect they might be carrying any item that could be used in prohibited protests. A prohibited protest is defined in the Bill as any protest that has “a relevant impact” on or causes “serious annoyance” to any two people within the vicinity of the protest, or that causes “serious disruption” to any organisation. Material for use in protests might include placards, banners, loudhailers or any other items commonly used by protesters.
Give police the right to stop and search people without suspicion, if they believe that protest will occur in a particular area.
The Bill gives the police, acting under instruction from the government, the power to stop any protest. The criminal offences created by the Bill and its amendments carry a maximum sentence of 51 weeks in prison.
These are dictatorial powers that would remove some of our most basic democratic rights and freedoms. They would enable the government, or future governments, to turn the UK into a police state. Even former senior police officers describe the Bill as “harmful to democracy”.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights state that the Bill’s proposals are “oppressive and wrong” and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated the measures undermine human rights legislation.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Protest this Saturday, January 15th at 2pm Sheffield Town Hall. (organised by Extinction Rebellion but all welcome)
Green Party Peer Jenny Jones has released a pack to help people campaign against the bill. These include social media posts, placards and a template email to MPs/Lords.
Because the latest amendments to the Bill were slipped in at a late stage in the House of Lords, the Lords are able to remove them. The amendments will fall if the Lords vote against them. The last vote is on 17th January.
Green and Liberal Democrat peers will oppose these amendments. The Labour Party has so far failed to offer strong opposition to the Bill and it’s vital that Labour and independent peers now join other peers to stop these extremely dangerous amendments.
Ideally, the Bill should be voted down. If passed it will create a new trespass offence that criminalises the way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities, while the government manifestly fails to provide adequate sites and permitted stopping places, and has implications for access to the countryside and people experiencing homelessness. Sheffield Peer Baronness Natalie Bennett of Manor Castle spoke about this in the Lords, and repeated the conclusion of the National Police Chief’s Council that “We believe the criminalising of unauthorised encampments is not acceptable.”
For a country that so often prides itself on civil liberties, this Bill represents an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens, in particular those from marginalised communities, and is being driven through at a time and in a way where those who will be subject to its provisions are least able to respond.
I urge you to raise public awareness of the dangers of the Policing Bill and increase pressure on peers and on the Labour Party generally to oppose it. Join in local protests, talk to your friends and colleagues about it, post about the bill on your social media and write to your MP.
You can also sign this petition by 38 Degrees calling on the government to stop this attack on our democratic rights, and encourage others to sign. More than 181,000 people have already supported it.
Sheffielder and Act Now performer Janice Brown is best known for her performances as Mother Earth, having a climate crisis. She was arrested last summer for sitting in the road in a desperate attempt to draw attention to the climate emergency. Janice said “I didn’t harm anyone, but if this legislation had been passed I would now be facing 51 weeks in prison. Meanwhile, Shell, Exxon, BP and Total are directly responsible for countless deaths all over the world as homes are flooded, crops fail and wildfires blaze. Why aren’t the Chief Executives of these companies in the dock? We must stop the Police Bill from taking away our democratic right to protest. ”
Here is a list of Members of the House of Lords to write to.
Action Pack from Baroness Jenny Jones
Template letter (but please edit it to make it personal)
Jubilee Debt Campaign letter