THE HOUSE OF LORDS VOTED THROUGH FINAL MEASURES in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on 26 April.
Despite strong opposition from MPs, Lords and campaigners, this means that police in the UK will now have unprecedented powers to restrict protests they deem “too noisy”.
The verdict comes one year after the bill was introduced and three months after back-and-forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, during which time MPs repeatedly rejected the Peers’ amendments.
The Police Bill Alliance, an informal collation of UK organisations that opposed many parts of the bill, issued the following joint statement in response:
“Today is a dark day for democracy. Despite over a year of relentless opposition from MPs, campaigners, and many Lords, the Government today passed measures that will undermine everybody’s right to protest and criminalise the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities.
“Police will now have the unprecedented power to impose noise-based restrictions on protests, the power to impose large fines and jail sentences on anyone who strays from conditions imposed on a protest and criminalise Gypsy, Traveller and nomadic families who have no place to stop and rest. It’s cruel to use the full strength of the law to tell people where they can’t go, but offer nowhere they can go.
“Over the course of the campaign, we have succeeded in removing some of the most draconian measures impacting protests but make no mistake, this is an anti-democratic Bill and [we] will continue to defend and promote democracy.”
Stephanie Draper, CEO at Bond, the UK network of NGOs, said: “This is a blow to everyone in the UK as the bill will severely restrict our ability to protest – a fundamental human right that underpins our democracy. In the face of worsening crises such as climate change, rising food prices and the war in Ukraine, now more than ever we need to be able to protest and hold the government to account.
“By abandoning these principles, the UK has lost its credibility as a country that champions human rights and democratic values and stands up for minorities around the world. At a time when democracy in Europe is under attack, we must lead by example and do all we can to protect our rights and freedoms here in the UK.
“The new bill will also endanger marginalised groups such as the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community with its harsh new trespassing laws. We will continue to find a way to make our voices heard.”
Sarah Mann, Director at Friends, Families and Travellers, said: “Part 4 of the Policing Bill goes above and beyond to tell people where they can’t go, but offers no alternatives for where they can go. If only the same amount of effort to criminalise trespass had simply been directed towards addressing the chronic lack of safe stopping places, we could be looking at significantly better life outcomes for Gypsy, Traveller and nomadic people.
“It’s not only cruel but utterly illogical to criminalise trespass and further marginalise families and entire communities without offering suitable stopping places – such as sites or negotiated stopping arrangements. This sets a terrifying precedent not just for Gypsy and Traveller families, but for society at large. This bill punishes people for the ‘crime’ of having nowhere else to go.”
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk of Quakers in Britain, said: “Quakers in Britain have worked hard to oppose this bill because of our commitment to equality and justice. We’re devastated that we haven’t been able to convince the government or its MPs to remove any of the draconian measures.
“Part 3 of the bill will restrict the right to protest, which is an important way in which many Quakers put their faith into action. Part 4 will prevent Gypsy and Traveller communities from pursuing their traditional nomadic way of life. We stand in solidarity with those in already-marginalised groups who will be disproportionately harmed by the provisions in the bill. We remain dedicated to working with our partners to defend human rights, and promote our vision for a society where every human being can flourish.”
Sam Grant, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Liberty, said: “The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill is an attack on the fundamental right to protest. Today, MPs voted through the Government’s plans to shut down noisy protests and criminalise people in attendance.
“The policing bill has faced opposition from all corners of society in recent months, and as a result of the tireless work of campaigners, parliamentarians and members of the public, some of the worst excesses of the bill have been removed.
“However, the effects of the bill will still be incredibly concerning – particularly for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and those already affected by over-policing. Liberty will continue to stand up against abuses of power, defend the right to protest, and resist this government’s attempt to make itself untouchable.”
Dave Timms, Head of Political Affairs, Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), said: “The Police Bill is the most significant restriction of civil liberties in a generation. And the government’s assault on the nomadic way of life of already persecuted Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities is abhorrent and has no place in any country that claims to respect human rights.
“Despite huge public outcry this legislation has been forced through, diminishing our rights and weakening democracy. But this is far from the outright victory the government sought to win. The House of Lords kicked out some of the most draconian proposed measures, such as individual protest bans and police powers to stop and search protestors, and laid bare the complete lack of justification for police powers to ban noisy protest.
“Our fight doesn’t end here. A huge and diverse movement has come together to challenge the government’s drift to authoritarianism and its attempts to evade public accountability. Together we must continue our efforts to ensure the government obeys the law and upholds our rights, by protecting vital legal and democratic mechanisms such as Judicial Review, the Human Rights Act, and the independence of our elections.”
The Police Bill Alliance is an informal alliance of over 350 organisations that oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’s assault on freedom, rights and marginalised communities. The founding members are Liberty, Bond, Quakers in Britain, Friends of the Earth, and Friends, Families and Travellers. More information here.
Bond is the UK network for organisations working in international development. It unites and supports a diverse network of over 400 civil society organisations from across the UK, and allies to help eradicate global poverty, inequality and injustice.
* Source: Bond