Rebecca Long-Bailey MP says the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill could contravene articles in the Human Rights Act.
The Conservative Government’s new Police and Crime legislation, which was introduced last month, will increase penalties and give police greater power to crack down on protesters. The Bill will allow police to impose noise limits and start and finish times, in what is being called an “attack on human rights” by civil rights organisations.
Rebecca Long-Bailey said: “The Bill will enable restrictions to be placed on freedom of assembly and association, which arguably contravene Article 11 of the Human Rights Act”.
“It has been opposed by trade unions and a whole range of human and civil rights organisations. The Government’s excuse is there is a need for it following the disruption caused by climate protests a few years ago, and more recently the Black Lives Matters protests, which is rubbish”
“The police already have the power to arrest those who are involved in antisocial behaviour, violence or criminal damage, but this Bill extends those powers. The effect it has on our right to protest is chilling.”
Opponents of the bill say it will make it easier to convict protesters ignoring conditions placed on a protest. The threshold for an offence will be lowered so that a person who “knows or ought to have known” can be arrested.
This will replace a previous ‘loophole’, where protesters could cover their ears and tear up written conditions by the police to avoid conviction so that they can’t be proved to have “knowingly failed to comply”.
The Bill will also prevent protests taking place around Parliament by reinstating ‘public nuisance’ as a statutory offence and ensuring vehicle access to Parliament remains unobstructed.
Mrs. Long Bailey called this piece of legislation “ill-defined” and “worryingly open to interpretation” saying “more insidiously in the Bill, anyone who causes a ‘serious annoyance’ can be subject to jail sentences of up to 10 years. This is staggering when compared with the fact that the Bill includes no increase on sentencing for sexual assault and harassment”.
Tonight the Tories waved through the dangerous Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that once passed in full will enable restrictions to be placed on freedom of assembly and association. It erodes our freedoms, will silence millions from speaking out and it must be stopped. pic.twitter.com/QXs47XX2gm
— Rebecca Long-Bailey (@RLong_Bailey) March 16, 2021
However, Kersal ward councillor Arnie Saunders, who is also the Conservative mayoral candidate for Salford, says the reality of the Bill is more complex.
Mr. Saunders said: “I think this bill was brought in for the right reasons. I think it’s not perfectly worded, and that once it has been discussed and amended in the committee stage, it will come back quite a different Bill, one that will strike the right balance between the right to protest and the right for ordinary people to go about their lawful business.
“I don’t know if the bill will make people feel safer, I think it will make people feel less inconvenienced. People will be able to get where they want to go and hear themselves think if its near parliament.
“Safety is one of the ideas of the Bill, but I doubt whether the man or woman in the street will go to bed thinking “I’m glad they’ve passed this Bill, I feel safer now”. I think it’s more of a matter of inconveniencing people.
Mr. Saunders says the bill is not an attempt to silence protestors.
“I think it’s very dangerous ground to try and stop protests, I would use the word regulate. Stopping a protest should be done as a very last resort.”
The Bill has been drafted in response to calls for more police powers to act on peaceful protests like those carried out by Extinction Rebellion, which has seen activists glue themselves to trains and the ground in Parliament Square.
Civil rights groups and thousands of demonstrators have condemned the legislation with multiple “Kill the Bill” protests taking place in Manchester city centre and all over the country over the last few weeks.
People come out to the streets to #protest under the banner ‘Kill The Bill’. The new legislation, if passed, will give the police more powers to control demonstrations. #Manchester, UK 2021 #killthebill pic.twitter.com/GBr1MVmVgu
— Andy Barton (@Andybartonphoto) March 27, 2021
Activists have so far managed to delay the passing of the Bill in parliament, meaning it won’t be considered by the committee until later in the year.
Once the committee considers the Bill and reports back, there will be a third reading in the House of Commons.