Social justice movements from BLM to XR have released a joint statement saying they are “troubled and disturbed” over the government’s new policing bill.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, due for its second reading in parliament on Monday and Tuesday, would give new powers to the police to “tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to parliament.” It also threatens access to the countryside and the Traveller community’s way of life.
Among the more than 50 signatories are: Black Lives Matter groups from across the UK, the Northern Police Monitoring Project, Extinction Rebellion UK, Labour Youth LGBT Network, RAAH UK, Labour LGBT+ Network, and many other grass-root marginalised groups.
The statement, published on Monday, calls for MPs to “Kill the Bill”.
The main criticisms, which were outlined in an open letter by Liberty and Friends of the Earth, are that they say the bill plans to:
- Introduce draconian new police powers to decide where, when and how citizens are allowed to protest and have their voices heard by those in power
- Increase penalties for those breaching police conditions on protests and the ease with which they can be found to have done so;
- Create a new trespass offence that criminalises the way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities, while the government manifestly fails to provide adequate sites and permitted stopping places, and has implications for the public’s right to protest, access to the countryside and people experiencing homelessness.
The statement says: “The rights to peacefully assemble and protest are a fundamental part of any democracy, empowering people to have their voices heard, in addition to holding the government to account.”
Ministers have argued that “recent changes in tactics” used by demonstrators, including people gluing themselves to buildings and vehicles or obstructing access to buildings such as Parliament, have “highlighted gaps” in the existing legislation.
But signatories believe the measures proposed in the Bill undermine freedom of assembly and association which are protected under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.
Some of the vague language in the bill has raised concerns, with protests that create “noise” or causing “serious annoyance” facing criminalisation.
London’s Metropolitan Police have come under heavy criticism for the rough treatment of women as they clamped down on those who attended Clapham Common for a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old-woman whose body was found last Wednesday.
Images showed police arresting women and dragging people away from the site of the vigil. Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick has defied calls to resign, and said that what has happened makes her “more determined, not less, to lead my organisation.”
The signatories believe now is not the time to increase police powers further, and are concerned about the “rushed” passage of the bill. The government has given a week between the 296-page bill’s publication and second reading.
“This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest,” he claimed. “The Conservatives have brought forward a bill that is seeking to divide the country. It is a mess, which could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.”
A Home Office minister argued the new legislation was for “very, very different” scenarios and the “most disruptive protests”.
MPs will now debate the bill in Parliament before they vote on it on Tuesday.
The group’s joint statement says that “Unless Her Majesty’s Government changes its current course of action, we cannot foresee that the mounting public unrest from all sides will cease, nor that it should. Such is the nature of democracy.
“This appears to be a blatant attempt to create an authoritarian police state, where the voices of ordinary people, particularly those most marginalised and disadvantaged, are silenced by state sanctioned penalties.”