The Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill
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You will no doubt have heard about this bill, and ought to have considered its impact. Let’s first consider an overview of what the bill ought to do, per the government, before we consider commentary on it.
The Bill’s Goals
Provisions in the bill are designed to
– Widen the range of conditions that the police can impose on static protests to match existing police powers to impose conditions on marches.
– Broaden the range of circumstances in which police may impose conditions on a protest.
– Amend the offence relating to the breaching of conditions
– Restate the common law offence of public nuisance in statute
– Ensure vehicular entrances to the Parliament Estate remain unobstructed
According to the government, the first measure will ensure that police can impose start and end times on protests and maintain noise levels. The second measure will ensure that police can impose conditions on protests which are disrupting individuals in the vicinity or an organisation’s running, largely based on the noise generated. The third measure will address a loophole that has seen protesters cover their ears and tear up written conditions given to them by the police, thus evading conviction for breaching conditions as they have not ‘knowingly failed to comply’ with conditions. This is being changed to ‘knows or ought to have known.’ The fourth part of the bill sees public nuisance being reintroduced as a statutory offence. The final measure allows the police to better protect the flow of vehicles in or out of parliament.
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Understanding the Bill for Training Contract Interviews
There has been a huge amount of debate on the bill, with Priti Patel in particular drawing ire from the House of Lords for adding last-minute amendments. A liberal democracy peer, Lord Paddick, who was deputy assistant commissioner of the Met Police, dubbed the proposals ‘outrageous’ and claimed that they could have ‘serious consequences in terms of police powers, infringement of civil liberties and the creation of new offences” and that they had been introduced in a ‘wholly unacceptable way at the last minute.’
The Bill sparked protests since its first Reading in Parliament, with a ‘Kill the Bill’ movement springing up, driven by those alarmed at its perceived ability to end peaceful protest. Protestors from Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter were considered to be particular catalysts for the Bill, and were therefore seen as a significant part of the protest force that sought to stop it.
Particular attention should be paid to parts of the bill like the criminalisation of ‘the wilful obstruction of a highway’ and the ‘obstruction of major transport works’ – which seems to stem directly from protests by the Insulate Britain group. ‘Locking on’ – the attachment of one individual, object, or piece of land to another – was also criminalised. This now carries a possible sentence of 51 weeks in jail.
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This is a worrying step, as the idea of chaining oneself to public property – or indeed another individual – has been part of British protest tactics since the Suffragettes – who we now laud as national heroes. The government defends this section of the bill by saying that ‘over recent years, certain tactics used by some protesters have caused a disproportionate impact on the hardworking majority seeking to go about their everyday lives. This has included halting public transport networks, blocking the printing press, blocking ambulances from reaching hospitals and preventing hundreds of hard-working people from getting to their jobs.’ They further highlight that protests of this nature have not only been disruptive, but have also drained public funds – notably when Extinction Rebellion protests in April and October 2019 brought some areas of London to a standstill, with the police operation alone costing more than 37 million pounds.
Serious disruption orders, or SDPOs, can now be imposed on anyone whose activities were deemed likely to cause serious disruption, whether or not they were convicted of a crime. Those with SDPOs will be banned from protesting. George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, stated that it might now be difficult ‘to attend a protest without committing an offence’ and that the powers given by the Bill are ‘dictators’ powers.’
Harriet Harman, the JCHR chair, has stated that the proposal to clamp down on demonstrations that are deemed loud enough to cause ‘intimidation or harassment’ is ‘oppressive’ and senior police officers wrote to the Home Office saying that the plans have ‘harmful implications.’