According to new government proposals, police may be permitted to put an end to protests before they seriously disturb society.
The ideas, according to Downing Street, will assist police in cracking down on “a disruptive minority” who adopt strategies like slow marching and traffic obstruction.
It was stated that the modifications aimed to provide police more discretion and clarity regarding when they could interfere.
The plans, according to the human rights group Liberty, amount to an assault on the right to protest.
The intentions will be detailed in a Public Order Bill amendment that will be presented on Monday.
Any amendments to the measure, which affects both England and Wales, must be agreed by peers and members of Parliament.
Its goal is to put a stop to disruptive demonstrations by environmental activist groups including Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain, and Extinction Rebellion, who have adopted strategies like roadblocking.
M25 protests are put an end by Just Stop Oil campaigners.
Does Just Stop Oil have the right to obstruct traffic?
According to No. 10, the modifications would allow police to end a protest without having to wait for a disturbance to occur.
Forces should also take into account the “overall impact” of a number of protests by the same group rather than treating them as isolated instances, it was stated.
“The freedom to protest is a vital principle of our democracy, but this right is not absolute,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated. The rights of individuals and the rights of the hard-working majority to conduct their daily affairs must be balanced.
“We cannot allow a small minority to disrupt the daily life of the general public through their protests. We’ll put an end to it because it’s unacceptable.
The National Police Chiefs Council’s lead for public order and safety, Chief Constable BJ Harrington, stated: “This will support officers in confidently and swiftly taking action and making arrests where necessary.
“Policing is not anti-protest, but there is a distinction between protest and criminal activism, and we are dedicated to responding quickly and effectively to activists who intentionally disrupt people’s lives by engaging in risky, careless, and illegal behavior,” said the police department.
Sir Mark Rowley, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, endorsed the proposals as well, claiming that the lack of legislative clarity was causing police to get involved in “complex legal arguments about the balance between that right to protest and the rights of others to go about their daily lives free from serious disruption.”
Director of the human rights organization Liberty, Martha Spurrier, disagreed, calling the measures “a desperate attempt to close off every avenue for regular people to make their opinions heard.”
According to her, “allowing the police to end rallies before any disturbance has occurred solely on the off-chance that it may establishes a hazardous precedent, not to mention making the job of officers policing protests considerably more complex.”
Sarah Jones, the shadow minister for policing for Labour, declared: “Labour supports the police in using their authority to deal with dangerous, disruptive protests.
But the prime minister has devoted more time to discussing protests than to addressing the plague of violence against women and girls or the disgraceful track record of his government’s criminal justice system.
The idea was labeled as “a dark and totalitarian attempt to destroy the fundamental human rights that support our democracy” by the Just Stop Oil organization.
The Public Order Bill already contained provisions to establish a new criminal offense for “locking on” and tampering with vital national infrastructure, such as railroads and oil refineries.
Some climate protesters have utilized the strategy of locking themselves to a structure or object.
The controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which was passed last year and was criticized by several groups for placing restrictions on the freedom to protest, is built upon by the new measure.
In accordance with the law as it stands, the police must generally demonstrate that a protest may lead to “severe public disorder, substantial damage to property, or serious disruption to the life of the community.”
The new government plans would widen the meaning of “severe disruption” as it is now used in law and provide officers with more guidance on when to intervene.
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