Protest rights


Posted on 16 Feb 2023

Wins over protest restrictions shows united front can defeat Government’s anti-protest Bill

Last week, we welcomed a series of crucial victories for the right to protest.

The House of Lords voted a total of eight times to block a series of authoritarian proposals in the Government’s Public Order Bill during the Bill’s Report Stage.

The votes mean that some of the most extreme parts of the Bill have been thrown out for good.

Other discriminatory and anti-protest measures were defeated but can be reinserted into the Bill when it returns to the House of Commons, most likely in March.

Anti-protest measures thrown out for good

  • Government amendments that would enable police to pre-emptively restrict protests on the off-chance they may become disruptive later on
  • Government attempts to limit when someone can use the defence of ‘reasonable excuse’ when charged with wilful obstruction of the highway and other protest offences

Measures that MPs will vote on again

  • Removing powers to stop and search protestors without suspicion
  • Removing powers to impose Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (effectively protest banning orders) on people who have not been convicted of a crime
  • Adding a definition of serious disruption in the Bill
  • Narrowing who can be given a protest banning order on conviction
  • Adding protections for journalists and other observers of protests.

The Government was also forced to concede to Parliamentarians’ and campaigners’ demands, resulting in some of the most extreme parts of Serious Disruption Prevention Orders removed without the need for a vote. This included the removal of 24/7 GPS electronic monitoring and the ability to renew an Order indefinitely.

What’s next?

MPs will have another chance to get these oppressive powers back into the Bill – most likely in March.

The House of Lords’ changes are not perfect. Not only does the Bill still contain protest-specific, suspicion-based stop and search powers and protest banning orders on conviction, it will also create a long list of new criminal offences criminalising protest tactics such as locking on.

Nonetheless, these changes are considerable victories we must now protect. We need to make sure that it’s the least bad version of this Bill that becomes law. Then we can work to scrap it altogether.

Protest is a fundamental right, not a gift to be taken away as and when they please.

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