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SOCPAvistas, sleep on!

New legislation to curtail protest around Parliament.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (PRSRA) which received royal assent on 15 September enshrines the latest attempt to try to prevent continuous protest in Parliament Square, in particular Brian Haw’s 10-year old peace camp, which continues after his death.

Part 3 of the PRSRA repeals the sections of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) that required police authorisation for political protest and banned the use of loudspeakers in an area including Parliament Square.

To avoid the loophole that prevented SOCPA being used against Brian’s peace camp, the new act applies to “public assemblies” started before the Act came into force. However part 3 applies only to the central island of Parliament Square. As well as banning the use of amplified equipment, the PRSRA also prohibits erecting a tent or structure on the central island which is “adapted… for the purpose of facilitating sleeping or staying… for any period”. Also forbidden on the island is “placing… any sleeping equipment with a view to its use for… sleeping overnight”.

It is an offence to continue or repeat these prohibited activities after being warned by a police officer and the maximum penalty is a whopping £5,000. The act gives police the right of seizure of equipment that appears to an officer as be in use or having been used in contravention of the PRSRA. A court can then order the forfeiture of such equipment.

It seems, then, that providing participants are willing to forgo any structure facilitating them staying in the square or any sleeping equipment, continuous protest, or even sleeping, in Parliament Square is not ruled out by the act.

David Polden is PN news editor.

Topics: Civil Liberties