Policing / Protest rights


Posted on 18 Jan 2022

  • Lords inflict 14 defeats on Government plans to restrict protest
  • Liberty campaign goes on to defeat sweeping legislation
  • “This is a crucial victory for everyone who has a cause they believe in.”

Liberty has welcomed a series of crucial victories for the right to protest and called for the campaign to go on to defeat the Government’s dangerous Policing Bill.

In a night of crushing defeats for the Government’s campaign to restrict and criminalise protest, Peers voted 14 times to block its proposals yesterday and this morning (17-18 January).

A series of powers put forward by the Government at the eleventh hour, such as the creation of “protest banning orders” and new “locking on” offences, were consigned to history as there will not be another chance for the Government to table them.

Other powers that were in the original Bill, such as sweeping powers to restrict protest on the basis of “noise”, were defeated but the Government may try to table them again when the Bill returns to the Commons.

Liberty Director Martha Spurrier said: “This is a crucial victory for everyone who has a cause they believe in. The right to protest is not a gift from the state, and it’s fitting that through months of protest we have protected this right from a dangerous power grab from the Government.

“Yesterday’s vote means some of the most dangerous and authoritarian parts of the Policing Bill will never darken British democracy, but the campaign to stop the Policing Bill must go on. The Bill is an all-out assault on the right to protest, and there are still many dangerous new police powers in the Bill that will increase discrimination and the danger of police interactions – particularly for Black men – while other measures threaten to criminalise the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities.

“The Bill, and the last minute amendments they tried to sneak through, are typical of a Government that despises scrutiny and rejects accountability, which thinks the powerful should be above the law, even if it comes at the expense of everybody else’s human rights.

“We have shown that with a united front people power can stop the Government from changing the rules to suit themselves. Now the fight continues to stop them from threatening all our rights and making themselves untouchable.”

A year ago, Liberty obtained evidence that the Government intended to retain draconian powers to restrict protest that it had gained during the coronavirus lockdowns. Since then, we have played a key role in a broad civil society coalition campaigning against the Bill, which alongside widespread protests led by campaign groups such as Sisters Uncut, led to some of the worst parts of the Bill being scrapped.

The Government will have an opportunity to reinsert parts of the Bill in the House of Commons, so the campaign goes on to defeat those powers, and press MPs to block the Bill’s discriminatory powers, Liberty says.

Votes in the House of Lords last night mean that these threats to protest are defeated and cannot be returned to the Bill:

  • The offence of locking on and being equipped to lock on.
  • Interference with major transport works.
  • Interference of key national infrastructure.
  • Stop and search on specifically for items associated with other parts of the Bill, such as causing “nuisance”.
  • Suspicionless stop and search related to protest.
  • Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (protest banning orders)

More info: 5 ways the Government’s Policing Bill just went from bad to worse

These threats to protest were defeated but MPs must defeat them again to ensure they do not become law:

  • Creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament.
  • Giving police power to impose noise-based restrictions on protest.
  • Criminalising one-person protests.
  • Giving police power to impose restrictions on public assemblies.
  • Creating the offence of wilful obstruction of the highway (amended to only include the Strategic Road Network.

Powers to criminalise trespass, which threaten the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities, were already passed by the House of Lords, meaning MPs must defeat them or scrap the Bill wholesale. New police powers, which will entrench the danger of police interactions, particularly for Black men and survivors of domestic abuse and criminal explotiation, were amended so that there must be a robust pilot and a parliamentary vote before their roll out. MPs can still vote to block the serious violence duty and Serious Violence Reduction Orders in their entirety if they oppose the Bill.

The Policing Bill has caused widespread outrage and a growing groundswell of objection to the Government’s dangerous proposals over the past year, including:

  • Over 800,000 people signed a petition against the Bill coordinated between human rights groups, environmentalists, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller advocates and other charities.
  • Over 350 charities signed a letter calling for the Bill to be scrapped.
  • Leading campaigners including the Gurkha campaigners and disability rights advocate Susan Archibald spoke out against it.
  • Over 700 academics called for the Bill to be dropped.
  • Three UN Special Rapporteurs warned the Bill threatens our rights.
  • Polling found nearly two thirds of the public are concerned about the protest crackdown.
  • Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said its proposals are “oppressive and wrong”.
  • Over 600 health and social care professionals warned that new policing provisions would require them to breach confidentiality and put young people’s safety at risk.
  • Over 80 leaders in LGBT+ advocacy said the Bill threatens the progress toward LGBT+ equality.

Liberty has also warned that the Bill is one part of a larger campaign by the Government to remove itself from accountability and undermine everyone’s ability to stand up to power.

Contact the Liberty press office on 07973 831 128 or pressoffice@libertyhumanrights.org.uk

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