Monday 13 September 2021

Why you should be concerned about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021:

The above bill, currently going through Parliament will place some very unnecessary restrictions on public protest. I would urge everyone who cares about democracy to write to your MP to raise your concerns. I would recommend everyone read what these changes are. Here is a summary from a Government factsheet. My comments are in Red Italics.

  • Widen the range of conditions that the police can impose on static protests to match existing police powers to impose conditions on marches.

This measure will enable the police to impose conditions such as start and finish times and maximum noise levels on static protests. The police already have the power to impose such conditions on marches. Barneteye comment -  This is a totally unneccesary limit on freedom to protest and is likely to be abused by the authorities. Large demonstrations and protests often see people come from far and wide. Crowds build up over a period. The only time when the police should ever impose time restrictions is when there is a clear and present risk of serious disorder. There is no reason why the Police should be able to impose rules on assembly, just to suit their own agenda. Back in 2012, the Barnet Eye led protests against the closure of the Friern Barnet Library, by announcing we'd be holding a People's Library on the green outside the Library on the Saturday Morning following the closure. 400 people spontaneously turned up. Under this law, the Police would be able to stop what was a perfectly peaceful and joyous protest.  This protest ultimately lead to the saving of the library. Under the new rules, I could have been carted off to jail.

HMICFRS’ inspection found that “protests are fluid, and it is not always possible to make this distinction [between static protests and marches]. Some begin as assemblies and become processions, and vice versa. The practical challenges of safely policing a protest are not necessarily greater in the case of processions than in the case of assemblies, so this would not justify making a wider range of conditions available for processions than for assemblies”.


  • Broaden the range of circumstances in which police may impose conditions on a protest.

This measure will broaden the range of circumstances in which the police can impose conditions on protests, including a single person protest, to include where noise may cause a significant impact on those in the vicinity or serious disruption to the running of an organisation. The Home Secretary will have the power, through secondary legislation, to define and give examples of “serious disruption to the life of the community” and “serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried out in the vicinity of the procession/assembly/one-person protest”. These regulation-making powers will clarify ambiguous cases where, if they arise, it may not be clear whether the threshold for the use of such powers have been reached. This will enable the police to make use of their powers with the confidence that they are doing so legally. Barneteye Comment - This is complete overkill. It states that it can be used where "serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried out in the vicinity of the procession/assembly/one-person protest" Clearly one person with a megaphone can be rather irritating to some people. However, we have a tradition of tolerance for such protests in the UK. This blog has been involved in all manner of protests, sometimes on our own. What is the definition of 'serious disruption?'  Having to walk around the block, having to move to another area to make a phonecall? Not enjoying someone calling you a beastly monster as you go to Work? Just about every right that has been achieved that has improved the quality of life for the majority of UK citizens from the right for women to vote to the decriminalisation of same sex intercourse, justice for wrongly convicted Irishmen and ending of racist police actions has been the result of someone or some organisation having disruption to their business. If this law is passed then all of this progress will be stopped and authorities will be given carte blache to do as they please. You may not like it when protests affect you, but you will like it less when you start to lose your hard earned freedoms.

  • Amend the offence relating to the breaching of conditions

This measure will close a loophole which some protesters exploit. Some will cover their ears and tear up written conditions handed to them by the police so that they are likely to evade conviction for breaching conditions on a protest as the prosecution have to prove that the person “knowingly fails to comply with a condition imposed”. The Bill will change the threshold for the offence so that it is committed where a person “knows or ought to have known” that the condition has been imposed. Barneteye - This is simply outrageous in a free society. It seems that if you 'ought to have known'  of a condition or regulation and you breach it, then you are breaking the law. I recall when we started the Save Barnet's Libraries campaign, we lobbied Conservative councillors at their surgeries. I recall a couple of little old ladies, who saw us, asked what we were doing and joined in. Under the new law, they'd could be carted off, if they'd unknowingly breached a 'condition'. The prosecution can claim, and it would be impossible to refute, that if they joined in they should have known. To me this is what police states do, not liberal democracies.

  • Restate the common law offence of public nuisance in statute

The Bill will implement a recommendation by the Law Commission to introduce a statutory offence of public nuisance and abolish the existing common law offence. This will provide clarity to the police and potential offenders, giving clear notice of what conduct is forbidden.  Barneteye - I've lived 60 years in the UK and seem a whole raft of progressive measures adoopted as a result of protests that could be deemed public nuisance. Of course, at the time some people were inconvenienced. But can anyone seriously argue that measures such as votes for women and abolition of Victorian laws around sex, were not worth a bit of public nuisance?

  • Ensure vehicular entrances to the Parliament Estate remain unobstructed

This measure will enable the police to direct an individual to cease, or not start, obstructing the passage of a vehicle into or out of Parliament and make it an offence not to comply with such a direction. This will protect the right of access to the Parliamentary Estate for MPs, Peers and others with business there, as recommended in the Joint Committee on Human Rights in their 2020 report on Democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of association: Threats to MPs. Barneteye - In some ways, I find this the most offensive provision of all. I am sure MP's hate hearing what the public think of them, as they zoom past in their limo's, but they are accountable to us all. Sitting down peacefully in front of the PM's car, may irritate him, but it is a completely valid form of protest. It seems to me that Parliament is where people should have an inalienable right to protest. To put restrictions on this is totally outrageous. We have plenty of laws if people are being violent, indulging in incitement, harrassing people etc. I am not aware of any instances where MP's have been barricaded in Parliament for weeks on end, starving to death. This is a typical example of out of touch politicians wanting the public kept at arms length. 

So you may ask, what happens if you commit a public nuisance offence?

We are introducing the offence in statute, and abolishing the common law offence, in line with the recommendations of the independent Law Commission. In doing so, we are narrowing the scope of the offence and lowering the maximum penalty from unlimited crown court penalties, to 10 years’ imprisonment. Barneteye comment - Ten years is more than a local paedophile was sentenced to after conviction for assaulting a 7 year old girl. It is completely draconian in its nature. There has been no case made to justify such harsh penalties for causing a bit of nuisance. If people are involved in activities that place life in danger or incite others to do so, there are already laws to deal with this. 
You may ask why the government feels it needs these changes

The highly disruptive tactics used by some protesters cause a disproportionate impact on the surrounding communities and are a drain on public funds. For example, during Extinction Rebellion’s protests of April and October 2019, some of London’s busiest areas were brought to a standstill for several days with the policing operation for the two extended protests costing £37m - more than twice the annual budget of London’s violent crime taskforce. Barneteye comment - The only justification is that it is expensive to police protests. It is telling that Extinction Rebellion are specifically named. I do wonder if there has been a cost put on the damage caused by climate change?
What is public nuisance?

The new statutory offence of public nuisance will cover the same conduct as the existing common law offence of public nuisance. The offence captures conduct which causes serious harm to, endangers the life, health, property or comfort of the public, or obstructs the public in the exercise or enjoyment of rights common to the public. An act or omission is considered to cause serious harm if as a result, a person suffers serious distress, serious annoyance, serious inconvenience or serious loss of amenity. Conduct captured here will include nuisances such as producing excessive noise or smells, or offensive or dangerous behaviour in public, such as hanging from bridges. For instance, previous convictions have been for throwing oneself into a river, or for threatening to jump from motorway bridges. Each of these caused unnecessary burden on, and distraction for, emergency services, in particular the use of police resources that could not be used elsewhere in the community. This denied an amenity to a cross section of the public. Barneteye Comment -  So you can get ten years for causing 'serious annoyance'? Ten years for producing 'excessive noises and smells'? My house backs onto the M1 Motorway and the Thameslink Railway. I was kept up all night last Saturday by work on the Railway. But that is OK. Having a noisy protest, to ask the government not to destroy the environment isn't. Make no mistake, this legislation is not a benign act of tidying up a raft of outdated laws. It is a concerted attack on freedom by a very authoritarian adminstration that believes the public should not hold it to account.

Please sign this petition to oppose this bill

You can find out more at the Liberty website

No comments: