Campaigners challenging restrictions on protest around Parliament, who deluged the Home Office with responses to its consultation on the issue, have been rewarded by a government announcement that the most controversial sections of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) will be scrapped. However, while the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill fully repeals sections 132-138 of SOCPA, justice secretary Jack Straw left the way open for restrictions to creep back in.
While continued monitoring is needed, the Government’s acceptance that the law “appeared to be pretty heavy-handed” represents an inspiring, if yet to be fully realised, victory for campaigners. The consultation report noted the large response, over 90% from members of the public, with “the vast majority” opposing any extension of the police’s ability to restrict freedom of assembly. However, SOCPA will continue to place severe restrictions on protest in “designated sites” elsewhere such as military bases, and is being used to clamp down on animal rights protests with substantial periods of remand and prison sentences.