Protest rights

Liberty reveals: police not consulted on protest crackdown

Posted on 18 Jul 2021

  • Leading police bodies not asked about new powers to police protests
  • Docs obtained by Liberty and Friends of the Earth contradict Ministers’ claims
  • Revelations are latest blow to Government plans for oppressive Policing Bill

The Government failed to consult leading police bodies on plans to crack down on protest rights, according to documents obtained by Liberty and Friends of the Earth.

The documents are likely to cause embarrassment as they contradict repeated public assurances from Ministers.

In response to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests revealed today, 18 July, the Police Federation and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (the APCC) said they were not consulted on Government plans to crack down on protest in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (the Policing Bill).

The Bill has caused widespread outrage and a groundswell of objection to the Government’s proposals, which include handing police powers to quash protests in certain places, as well as those that get too noisy or could cause a “nuisance”.

In a recent intervention, former police officers and chiefs wrote to the Home Secretary saying the Bill was a threat to democracy, but Ministers have repeatedly claimed to have worked closely with police leaders on the Bill.

In the parliamentary debate on the Bill, the Home Secretary said at the time “I have worked closely with the Police Federation in developing this Bill”.

However, an FOI response from the Police Federation said “we did not provide a written submission nor were we consulted on issues of protest related legislation”.

Late last year, the government commissioned a report by her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary (HMIC) about the policing of protests, which the government has used as a justification for giving new police powers to restrict protest. The report by HMIC lists the APCC as one of the organisations that it consulted. However, APCC’s FOI response contradicts this by saying “the APCC did not make any written submissions (or hold meetings) with representatives of HMIC regarding the issues of protest-related legislation”.

The revelations are the latest blow to the legitimacy of Government plans that have caused widespread outrage and triggered mass protests as the Bill has been rushed through Parliament. With the Bill set to be considered in the House of Lords soon, public opposition includes:

  • Liberty, 38 Degrees,, Friends of the Earth, Global Justice Now, Greenpeace, SumOfUs and Tipping Point, submitted a petition against the Bill signed by more than half a million people.
  • 245 organisations called the Bill an “attack” on fundamental rights.
  • Over 700 academics called for the Bill to be dropped.
  • Three UN Special Rapporteurs, and Europe’s top human rights official warned the Bill threatens our rights.
  • A former police Superintendent said the Bill threatens the values of democracy.
  • Polling reflected Brit’s anxieties, with nearly two thirds of the public  concerned about the protest crackdown.
  • Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said its proposals are “oppressive and wrong”.

Sam Grant, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Liberty, said: “No matter who we are, we all want to know we can stand up for what we believe in. Protest is not a gift from the State, it is a fundamental right and for many of the most marginalised it can be the only way to have your voice heard. Those in power want to take this away from all of us.

“This Bill has triggered mass protests and almost universal opposition – including from ex-police chiefs who say it threatens democracy. The fact policing bodies weren’t even consulted shows how determined those in power are to stifle dissent.

“As well as dangerous and unwanted restrictions on protest rights, the Bill threatens the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller Communities and doubles down on criminal justice measures that will funnel more young people into the criminal justice system. It is time the Government ended its long-running attack on the right to protest and reversed course on the array of dangerous parts of this Bill.”

In response to a written question by the MP Caroline Lucas, Home Office Minister Kit Malthouse acknowledged the government had not launched a public consultation and instead had only commissioned the report by the HMIC and spoken to some law enforcement officials.

In the parliamentary debate on the policing bill, Home Secretary Priti Patel said “We ask our brave police officers to do the most difficult of jobs…and that is why I have worked closely with the Police Federation in developing this Bill.”

The HMIC only spoke with a small number of civil society groups and a minority of police forces for its report on the policing of protests, which noted that “police interviewees were fairly evenly split on the question of whether current legislation governing protest is adequate or effective… Throughout the ten forces we inspected, we found that police views on proposed additional powers relating to protest were strikingly different.”

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