THE PUBLIC ORDER BILL, which has now been passed by Parliament in the United Kingdom, is deeply troubling legislation that is incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations regarding people’s rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned on Thursday 27 April 2023.

“This new law imposes serious and undue restrictions on these rights that are neither  necessary nor proportionate to achieve a legitimate purpose as defined under international law. This law is wholly unnecessary as UK police already have the powers to act against violent and disruptive demonstrations”, Türk said.

“It is especially worrying that the law expands the powers of the police to stop and search individuals, including without suspicion; defines some of the new criminal offences in a vague and overly broad manner; and imposes unnecessary and disproportionate criminal sanctions on people organising or taking part in peaceful protests”, he added.

The High Commissioner drew particular attention to Serious Disruption Prevention Orders introduced by the law that allow UK courts to ban affected individuals from being in certain places at certain times; being with particular people; or using the internet in certain ways, and could lead to the individual in question being electronically monitored to ensure compliance. It is especially concerning that such orders can be made against people who have never been convicted of any criminal offence.

“Governments are obliged to facilitate peaceful protests, while, of course, protecting the public from serious and sustained disruption. But the grave risk here is that these orders pre-emptively limit someone’s future legitimate exercise of their rights”, the High Commissioner said.

“I am also concerned that the law appears to target in particular peaceful actions used by those protesting about human rights and environmental issues. As the world faces the triple planetary crises of climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution, governments should be protecting and facilitating peaceful protests on such existential topics, not hindering and blocking them”, Türk stressed.

“The passage of this Bill regrettably weakens human rights obligations, which the country has long championed in international fora. I call on the UK Government to reverse this legislation as soon as feasible”, he said.

On 26 April the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) issued a statement on a misleading claim made by UK Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick in the House of Commons, suggesting that refugees wishing to apply for asylum in the United Kingdom should do so via the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ respective offices in their home region. The UNHCR said: “UNHCR wishes to clarify that there is no mechanism through which refugees can approach UNHCR with the intention of seeking asylum in the UK. There is no asylum visa or ‘queue’ for the United Kingdom.” Read the full statement here.

* Source: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights