New threat to criminalise protest

IssueDecember 2021 - January 2022
News by David Polden

The UK government is planning to bring in several new laws against nonviolent protest, including a new offence of ‘going equipped’ to lock-on.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, announced in her speech to the Tory party conference on 5 October that she would:

  • increase the maximum penalty for disrupting a motorway
  • make a new crime of interfering with key infrastructure ‘such as roads, railways and our free press’ and
  • give the police and courts ‘new powers to deal with the small minority of offenders intent on travelling around the country, causing disruption and misery across our communities’.

That last power is called a ‘serious disruption prevention order’, which can order you to do, or not do, almost anything (protest-related). You could be ordered, for example, not to ‘use the internet’ to ‘facilitate’ ‘activities related to a protest’.

Patel clearly had in mind recent protests by Extinction Rebellion (XR), Insulate Britain and Stop HS2.

The ‘interfering with key infrastructure’ offence could carry a maximum sentence of an unlimited fine, a year’s imprisonment, or both.

Lock off

The government also wants to criminalise ‘locking on’.

Under these plans, a person will commit an offence if (outside a home) they ‘attach themselves to another person, to an object or to land’ in a way that could cause ‘serious disruption’ to an organisation or to two or more individuals.

That can get you up to a year in prison and/or a fine.

You can also commit an offence, under the plans, if you are ‘going equipped to lock on’. That means carrying ‘an object’ with you that you intend to use for locking on. It could be a tube of superglue... or a bike lock....

Patel intends to introduce these changes through amendments to the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill currently going through parliament.

The bill also has anti-Traveller aspects to it (see centrespread).

Yasmine Ahmed, the UK director of Human Rights Watch, called the moves a ‘chilling erosion of our freedom of expression’.

Big Brother Watch said the plans resembled a ‘protest banning order’ .

Topics: Police