By Tom London
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is before Parliament now, contains provisions which are inimical to democracy and should be opposed by all means possible. If it becomes law, it will effectively ban meaningful peaceful protests, target the way of life of one group, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers (GRT), and create a new offence which carries a maximum ten-year sentence, including for putting someone at risk of being caused “serious annoyance”.
The Bill has led to a number of protests already; protests for the right to protest. There are set to be nationwide protests on this Saturday of the Easter weekend.
The right to protest is a fundamental part of a democratic society. It is recognised as such by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Passing this Bill would breach Article 11 and would mark the UK as an international pariah.
The GRT communities’ right to follow their traditional way of life and move from place to place is currently protected under the law, including Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, Clauses 61 to 63 of the Bill contains measures which are blatantly discriminatory against GRT communities. For years, councils have failed to provide enough legal sites for the GRT communities. Consequently, they have had to stop in unauthorised places. Whereas currently such trespass is a civil matter, the Bill criminalises it and gives the authorities draconian powers to imprison and to confiscate caravans, which are, of course, peoples’ homes.
Romany Gypsies have been in Britain since at least 1515. The Bill is the most serious threat to their way of life here for 500 years.
Clauses 54 to 58 of the Bill relate to protests (of more than one person). They effectively ban protests. They do so by giving the police and the Home Secretary new powers which give them the ability to ban protests on grounds which are drafted so widely that they could apply to any meaningful protest.
The only kind of protests which are likely to be allowed to go ahead are those where the authorities support the aims of the protest.
Under the current law, the police can ban or impose conditions on a protest if they reasonably believe that the protest may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.
But under the Bill, the grounds for the police to ban or impose conditions are dramatically widened so that they include, among other things, the noise made by a protest. It would be sufficient under the Bill to ban a protest if the noise generated by the protest “may have a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity” and “that impact may be significant”.
In practice, the Bill would allow the police to ban any protest which generates noise, which is to say, basically any protest.
As the Good Law Project has noted, “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that an attack on the making of noise is a disguised attack on the very nature of the right to protest.”
The Bill also gives unfettered power to the Home Secretary, currently Priti Patel, to define the meaning of certain key definitions. She could do this, after the Bill becomes law, by ministerial regulation, with minimal parliamentary oversight. That in itself is highly disturbing.
Clause 59 creates a new criminal offence. Among other provisions, it provides up to ten years imprisonment for causing someone to suffer “serious annoyance” or even for putting someone at risk of suffering “serious annoyance”. One likely purpose of this oppressive provision is to scare people away from joining protests.
Clause 60 is concerned with stopping annoying one-person protests. It is rumoured that it is intended to stop one man in particular from protesting – Steve Bray, the indefatigable anti-Brexit campaigner, who is now targeting Tory corruption.
It is a dark time for our country that this Bill could be brought forward and comfortably pass its first parliamentary hurdle. It is lamentable that our mainstream media have not kept the British public properly informed as to the deeply obnoxious contents of the Bill.
The blatant discrimination against GRT communities is sickening. Targeting minorities is a typical move by repressive regimes in hard economic times. It serves to distract and to divide and rule.
The effective ban on protests is a clear stepping-stone away from democracy to Fascism. This is made even clearer given the context. The Johnson Government have shown contempt for the Rule of Law time and time again. Here are just three examples. They unlawfully suspended Parliament; they legislated to break the Withdrawal Agreement in contravention of international law; and they have legislated to allow Ministers and officials in quangos – with no judicial oversight – to license murder, torture or rape by people working under cover.
Image: Riot police officers “kettle” protesters at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp, London, 1 April 2009. Source: G20 protest, London, UK. Author: Charlotte Gilhooly from London, England, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
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