When lawyers such as myself who fight for justice on behalf of victims of Police misconduct, find former Chief Constables adding their voices to ours in warning how the new Police Bill is an encroachment too far upon our civil liberties, then I think that is a sign for the rest of society to pay attention.
As reported in the Independent, Sir Peter Fahy (former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester) gave an interview to Times Radio this week, in which he castigated the Bill. Stressing how “the right to protest, the right to gather, the right to have a voice is fundamental to our democracy and particularly British democracy” Sir Peter highlighted how the proposed legislation was “putting in some really dodgy definitions which the Police are supposed to make sense of…This weekend has shown the crucial importance of the right to protest and you’ve got to be really wary of more legislation being rushed through, just because certain politicians didn’t like certain demonstrations in the Summer.”
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its second reading in the House of Commons this week, grants the Police stronger powers to control, restrict, and even criminalise those taking part in non-violent protests which the Police decide to designate as causing “a serious disruption” to the public or to organisations – by super-charging sections of the Public Order Act 1986. I am particularly concerned about how the discretionary element which is inevitable in interpreting such legislation may allow the Police to infringe our rights of freedom to assemble, of expression and of civil protest which are essential to the existence and proper functioning of a liberal democracy. The Public Order Act is already notorious for being the origin of many an unlawful arrest in my experience, owing to the vagueness of its definitions in relation to “threatening, abusive and disorderly” behaviour and the discretion this gives Police Officers to arrest an individual where no other definable crime may have been committed.
The bill also includes proposals to make the defacing of statues and monuments an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail; a draconian range of sentence, presumably designed to protect Edward Colston from another impromptu dip in those same waters of Bristol Harbour which once gave float to his slave-ships.
The dangers of Police overreach of powers have been amply demonstrated over the last 12 months in terms of the relish with which many officers seemed to seize their ability to enforce curfew upon the streets of “Lockdown Britain” – issuing unnecessary fines, interrogating individuals in a “papers please” style of dictatorial policing, and making numerous unlawful arrests and interferences in people’s lives. Sadly this came to a head with the Police action against the peaceful vigil being held by women on Clapham Common last week, in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard.
I would say that the existing culture of “toxic masculinity” which exists within the Police service, does not need another shot in the arm from the authoritarian tendencies of this Police bill.
I would urge people to read up on the proposed Police powers which will flow from this bill, and to consider adding their voices to those who have already spoken up against it. Please also consider signing the petition which has been created by the Human Rights campaign group Liberty, through the link below. Public protests and assemblies are the very bedrock of democracy.
I’m getting in touch today to ask you to take urgent action against the Government’s dangerous new Policing Bill.
It will give police more powers to shut down protest, stop and search without suspicion, and criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Protest isn’t a gift from the State – it’s our fundamental right and under human rights law, States have an obligation to facilitate protest, not suppress it.
Yet this is exactly what the Government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to achieve.
Not content with all but banning protest during the pandemic, the Government is now using this public health crisis as cover to make emergency measures permanent. Its new Policing Bill is an all-out assault on basic civil liberties
The anti-protest Bill will:
- Give police the choice on where, when and how people can protest
- Potentially criminalise the entire way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities
- Create new stop and search powers that will exacerbate discriminatory over-policing of people of colour.
We cannot allow these powers to pass. Now is the time for us to come together to stand up to this aggressive and egregious power grab.
Policy and Campaigns Officer