10 years for 'serious' protests

IssueJune - July 2021
News by David Polden

Over the weekend of 3 – 4 April, there were ‘Kill the Bill’ protests, mostly under a thousand strong, in more than 25 towns and cities in Britain. The largest was in London where an estimated 10,000 people marched from Buckingham Palace to Parliament Square.

On 1 May, May Day, there were more demonstrations around the country, including another one of 10,000 people in London, organised by the Kill the Bill Coalition.

The London marches led to 107 arrests in April and nine in May.

Bristol was a hotbed of protest against the bill, with repeated demonstrations met by violent police action to disperse them. On 3 April, for example, seven protesters were arrested – on May Day, two.

The focus of all this unrest was the 307-page Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill. This was passed by the Westminster parliament by 359 to 263 votes on 15 March.

The bill represents a serious attack on the right to protest.

It makes it an offence for a protest to cause ‘a significant impact to those in the vicinity or serious disruption to the life of the community’.

If it’s at a ‘serious’ level, this offence carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Serious? Significant?

What constitutes a ‘significant’ impact or ‘serious’ disruption will be interpreted differently by police officers and judges.

The bill gives the home secretary the power to define what are ‘significant’ impacts and ‘serious’ disruptions. The government claims that this regulation-making power will clarify ambiguous cases.

However, this doesn’t stop these decisions being subjective, it just makes them depend on the subjective judgement of the home secretary.

The bill also gives the police and the home secretary new powers to ban and control protests, such as imposing start and finish times – and noise levels.

Also, the prosecution don’t now have to prove that protesters ‘knowingly’ failed to comply with the conditions imposed on them. They only have to show that the protesters ‘knew or ought to have known’ that the conditions had been imposed.

Most ludicrously, the bill increases the maximum penalty for criminal damage to a memorial from three months to 10 years. This after only one statue has been toppled by protesters, that of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

The maximum sentence for rape in the UK is five years. As David Lammy MP put it, ‘Are we saying that that pulling down a statue is more important than a woman’s body?’