Liberty urges Birmingham City Council to scrap plans curtailing protest rights

By agency reporter
July 22, 2015

The human rights and civil liberties organisation Liberty has delivered a letter to Birmingham City Council urging it to abandon plans that would pose a significant threat to protest rights and civil liberties.

The letter is addressed to Councillor James McKay, Cabinet Member for Inclusion and Community Safety, who is currently considering whether to put a proposed Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) before the Council for a final decision and, if so, what its provisions should be.

As drafted, the Order would place a blanket ban on the use of amplification in any circumstances by “buskers, street entertainers and street speakers”. By proposing a blanket ban, the Order goes even further than the highly controversial Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which grants a discretionary power to ban amplification in Parliament Square.

Today’s letter from Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty, urges Cllr McKay not to place the PSPO before the Council in its current form, raising concerns that:

- The term ‘street speakers’ is undefined but appears from a Consultation Notice to include those who “preach religious and political beliefs on the streets of Birmingham”. Liberty is concerned that peaceful protesters and demonstrators could fall into its remit, and that the PSPO would therefore breach their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act.
- The PSPO would also criminalise those religious or charitable groups who are accustomed to holding open-air meetings and services in the city centre.
- Even protests, meetings and demonstrations conducted without amplification could fall foul of the vaguely worded PSPO, which prohibits noise “so loud that it has, or is likely to have, a detrimental effect on the quality of life of the people in the vicinity”.
- The PSPO would apply to sites including the Town Hall, Council Hall, West Midlands Police Headquarters, Victoria Square and the city’s Court buildings. The freedom to protest near such buildings is of both practical and symbolic importance to the people of Birmingham.
- There appears to have been very little consideration of the effect the PSPO would have on protesters and religious groups, in contrast to the position of buskers and lone entertainers and street speakers.

Rosie Brighouse said:“The people of Birmingham should not be criminalised for exercising their democratic right to demonstrate outside the city’s landmarks, or for using amplification when singing Christmas carols or holding peaceful open-air meetings and services – but that is exactly what the blanket ban proposed in this vaguely worded Order would do.

“If passed in its current form, this would be a shameful restriction on rights in a city with a long and proud history of political protest. We strongly urge the Council to abandon these misguided plans.”

Birmingham City Council held a public consultation on the proposed PSPO from 13 May until 29 June 2015. Since the consultation closed, Cllr McKay has said he will be reflecting carefully on the more than 600 responses received to ensure all viewpoints are considered carefully and respectfully.

Last month Liberty called on Oxford City Council to ditch plans for a new PSPO which would seek to ban “persistent begging”, sleeping in public toilets and breaching its inappropriately worded Code of Conduct for Busking and Street Entertaining. Council leaders were due to consider the proposals at a meeting on 11 June but postponed their decision to assess Liberty’s concerns.

PSPOs are intended to provide means of preventing activities that have a persistent and unreasonable detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the area.

* Liberty https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/

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