More Conservative attacks on the right to protest

IssueAugust - September 2023
News by PN

Damaging public order measures, which had earlier been rejected by the House of Lords, have been turned into law anyway (in England and Wales), using ‘statutory instruments’ which get less parliamentary time and which cannot be amended by the lords.

The human rights group Liberty is raising funds to mount a legal challenge against home secretary Suella Braverman’s ‘undemocratic decision to ignore Parliament and make law by the back door’.

The new regulations define ‘serious disruption’ under the Public Order Act 1986 as demonstrations which ‘may’ cause ‘more than minor’ delays for, or interference with, people’s daily lives, ‘including in particular the making of a journey’.

This means that a march attended by just a few hundred people, in which roads are closed for it to take place, would ‘undoubtedly’ be considered ‘serious disruption’ and therefore could be limited or even stopped by police.

This also means that the Ziegler action, of partially blockading a road leading to an arms fair for 90 minutes (PN 2660), would now count as ‘serious disruption’ and could be restricted by police. As could sitting in the road even for brief periods of time, if it resulted in delays to traffic.

That’s the expert legal opinion commissioned by Friends of the Earth from leading human rights barrister Adam Wagner of Doughty Street Chambers.

Wagner said the new definition could give police ‘nearing total discretion as to which processions or assemblies could be made subject to conditions’.

The new statutory instrument has also given police the power to conduct a suspicion-less stop-and-search for possible protest-related items and also allows them to serve people with a ‘serious disruption prevention order’ limiting their ability to protest.

The new regulations, which passed swiftly through the Commons and the Lords and came into force on 15 June, come on top of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and the Public Order Act 2023.

Topics: Civil liberties