Last night [26 April], the House of Lords voted through final measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which means – despite strong opposition from MPs, Lords and campaigners – 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 coalition of 350+ UK organisations that opposed the bill’s assault on freedom, rights and marginalised communities, issued the following joint statement in response:
“Today is a dark day for democracy. Despite over a year of relentless opposition, the Government today passed measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that will undermine everybody’s right to protest and criminalise the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities.
“With the Bill’s passage police have the unprecedented power to impose noise-based restrictions on protests, greater powers to restrict static assemblies and limit protest outside parliament, which gives the state the power to prevent all our voices being heard by those who make our laws.
“It allows police to impose large fines and jail sentences on anyone who strays from conditions imposed on a protest, even if they did not know those conditions were in place. This will not only punish those taking part, but may deter people from joining peaceful protests in the future.
“The Bill will also criminalise Gypsy, Traveller and nomadic families who have no place to stop and rest. The chronic lack of safe stopping places means the Government has ultimately chosen punishment over provision. 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.
“However, over the course of the campaign we have succeeded in removing some of the most draconian measures impacting protests (such as Serious Disruption Prevention Orders aka ‘Protest Banning Orders’ or suspicionless stop and search of protesters).
“Groups came together across sectors from human rights and criminal justice, to environment, faith and international development, to stand in solidarity with Gyspy and Traveller communities.
“Tens of thousands of people across the country took to the streets, nearly a million people signed petitions, hundreds of organisations rallied around the cause, and parliamentary champions in both Houses spoke out. We did not allow the Government to push this anti-democratic bill through quietly and will continue to defend and promote democracy.”
Quotes from the Police Bill Alliance’s founding members:
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.”
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. 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.”
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.”
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.”
Notes to editor:
- The Police Bill Alliance is an informal alliance of 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, Quaker in Britain, Friends of the Earth, and Friends, Families and Travellers.
- How Lords voted on 26 April:
-Amendment A1 lost 180 vs 133 votes - which would have removed noise restrictions from processions and one person protests.
-Amendment B1 lost 171 vs 84 votes - which included removing noise restrictions from static assemblies and provide additional power for police to regulate start and end time of assemblies instead of giving police same powers to restrict static assemblies as they already have to restrict public processions (maintaining a vital legal distinction).
-Amendment B2 lost 169 vs 113 votes – which would have removed noise restrictions from static assemblies.
- On 17 January, Peers succeeded in taking out of the Bill the majority of govt. amendments to Part 3. Including:
-Amendment 148 and 149 - Office of locking on and being equipped to lock on (vote 163 to 216)
-Amendment 151 - Interference with major transport works (vote 154 to 208)
-Amendment 152 - Interference of key national infrastructure (vote 153 to 198)
-Amendment 154 - Stop and search on suspicion (vote 141 to 205)
-Amendment 155 - Suspicionless stop and search and consequential offences (vote 123 to 212)
-Amendment 159 - Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (vote 124 to 199)
- On 13 December, in relation to Part 4 Peers failed to pass amendment 55ZB by 171 to 171 votes, which defaults in the Government’s favour. The amendment would have required a suitable stopping place to have been offered elsewhere within 48 hours before police powers could be exercised.
- Bond is the UK network for organisations working in international development. Bond 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.
- For further information or interviews please contact Juliet Conway on 07990518334 or [email protected]