Around the UK, thousands have taken to the streets to protest against the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.’ There have been seven demonstrations in Bristol so far, with protestors also gathering in central London, Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool, and many more cities across the country.
What is the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’?
The ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ is a new piece of legislation our government is trying to bring in to change the way we protest and give the police more power over controlling these demonstrations.
The new bill would allow police to:
• Impose start and finish times on protests
• Set noise limits on demonstrations
• Criminalize protests they deem a ‘public nuisance’ or a ‘serious annoyance’
• Add measures to the routes of demonstrations
• Apply these rules to a demonstration by just one person
• Increase the maximum penalty for damaging a memorial to 10 years in prison
Why is the new bill bad?
The police bill gives police significantly more power over the way we protest – something we have a right to do in a democratic state. Without protests, it’s likely that women would still not have the vote, and only rich white men would be able to have their say in elections.
At the moment, police officers have to show the demonstration could result in ‘serious public disorder’ before placing restrictions, as well as prove protestors knew they had been told to move on before they can say they’ve broken the law.
With this new bill, police can easily shut down demonstrations they deem a ‘public nuisance’ – a vague term that could easily be applied to any and all protests – even those made up of just one person holding a placard and shouting into a speaker.
The new bill will also make it a crime if protestors failed to follow restrictions they ‘ought’ to have known about, even if they have not received a direct order from an officer. This means that you can face criminal action if you breach conditions – without even realizing it.
Under the proposed law, you could face up to 10 years in prison for damaging a statue or memorial. To put this into context, this is a longer sentence than that given for violent crimes against living people. If this bill got through parliament then, there would be harsher penalties for damaging a statue, than for attacking a woman.
The new bill is in danger of violating international human rights laws, namely Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to freedom of assembly and association. And even former Prime Minister, Theresa May, has condemned the bill, urging the Conservative party to rethink as ‘our freedoms depend on it.’
The Police Bill is too illiberal even for Theresa May! https://t.co/zpGMfFIZGZ
— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) March 15, 2021
How can I fight against the new bill?
There are lots of ways to make your voice heard against this new bill. If you don’t feel comfortable going out and protesting, you can sign Netpol’s Protect Your Freedom To Protest petition, which opposes the proposed bill and calls on the National Police Chiefs Council to adopt a new Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights. You can also sign this Stop the Policing Bill petition.
What’s more, you can write to your local MP to express your concerns. While writing your own email from scratch will have more of an impact, you can also write to your MP using this email template, created by Sara Motaghian and Anuradha Damale. (There’s also one in Welsh.)
Joining a protest
If you do want to join a demonstration, here’s what you need to know about your rights as a protestor – with thanks to Black Protest Legal Support for providing this information.
Am I allowed to protest?
Your right to protest is a fundamental Human Right. It is protected by Article 10 (the right to freedom of speech) and Article 11 (the right to assembly and protest) of the European Convention of Human Rights – don’t worry, even though the UK has now officially left the European Union, this is a European treaty so it still applies to British citizens.
Can I protest in the pandemic?
Since the pandemic began, rules and restrictions across the UK have constantly been changing. This has affected protests in a number of ways. At the time of writing this article, government regulations in England allow protests to go ahead – provided the organisers adhere to a certain set of conditions.
If you are attending a demonstration, make sure to check out what measures the organiser has put in place to limit the risk of spreading Covid-19. You should also be sure to socially distance and wear a mask – both for your own safety and for the safety of other protesters.
What powers do the police use at protests?
If you are thinking of attending a demonstration, you should be aware of some of the tactics the police use at protests, namely stop and searches and kettling – if you see the police line-up begin to form a kettle and you do not wish to be part of it, the safest thing to do for you and the people around you is to quietly leave.
If you are stopped by the police and asked for your name and what you are doing, you do not have to answer. You can just walk away – they cannot arrest you or search you just for refusing to answer. However, it is a criminal offense to give false information. If you’re not sure why the police are asking for your details, ask them “under what power.”
The police only have the power to ask for your name if they suspect you of anti-social behaviour, and it then becomes an offense if you refuse to provide it.
If you are arrested, say “no comment” to all questions, until you have legal advice from a specialist solicitor with knowledge about protests. Do not accept a duty solicitor.
Instead, contact one of the following solicitors across the UK that offer free 24-hour advice:
ITN Solicitors: 0203 909 8100
Hodge Jones Allen (HJA): 0844 848 0222
Commons: 020 3865 5403
Bindmans: 020 7305 5638
More useful links and information
Follow Liberty on Twitter for ways to fight against injustices in the UK and hold the government accountable for their actions. Equally, their advice hub has loads of good information on protesting and policing, as well as protesting in the pandemic.
The freedom to protest is our human right, and we’re not letting go of it that easily.
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