Government proposals to criminalise unauthorised camps would undermine freedom to protest against fracking and the onshore oil and gas industry, campaigners have argued.
A public consultation, which ends just before midnight on Wednesday 4 March 2020, seeks views on whether police should be given greater powers to outlaw camps.
The government is seeking to criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales.
The proposals, from the Home Office, would also allow police to remove people from land, such as grass verges, that form part of the highway.
In the past eight years, opponents of onshore oil and gas have established camps to protest about developments across the UK, including in Lancashire, North and East Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, West Sussex, Surrey, Cheshire and Salford.
Some of the camps have been on grass verges. Others have been on private land. Many camp residents have collected information about activities at the oil and gas sites.
The government consultation said:
“we would like to test the appetite to go further and broaden the existing categories of criminal trespass to cover trespassers on land who are there with the purpose of residing in their vehicle for any period, and to give the police the relevant powers to arrest offenders in situ and to seize any vehicles or other property on existing unauthorised encampments (or those in the process of being set up) immediately.”
The campaign group, Frack Off London, said today:
“This proposal is a major concern as any new legislation criminalising trespass will impact on our freedom to protest. Campaigners seeking to reside on land for the purposes of protest are likely to be criminalised from the outset.
“To provide the police rights to prevent and disrupt protest camps, exposing those involved to a greater risk of harassment, violence and arrest, is wrong. These proposed changes have the potential to further undermine our human rights to protest against the ever-expanding environmental destruction caused by fossil fuel industries.”
One campaigner from the group said:
“The government consultation is not only aimed at those residing on land but potentially our protest camps.
“Our protector camps are absolutely necessary and have proved incredibly effective in slowing down these environmentally destructive industries.
“Any increased powers given to the police will infringe on our right to protest as campaigners seeking to reside on land for the purposes of protest are likely to be criminalised from the outset.”
In a response to the proposals, Frack Off London said:
“The police already have enough powers to deal with unauthorised encampments and the government’s proposal would criminalise Gypsies’ and Travellers’ nomadic way of life.
“There is no justification for this and it treats an entire community with contempt and encourages us to treat Gypsies and Travellers as separate from the general public, and they are already some of the most marginalised and persecuted in the UK.”