Government announces new curbs on right to protest

The UK government has announced changes to public order legislation that would give the police greater powers to restrict protests.

Protest near the Horse Hill oil site in Surrey protest, 3 August 2020. Photo: Used with the owner’s consent

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, published today, includes plans to “strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to Parliament”.

In a statement, the Home Office said the new laws would enable police to “safely manage protests where they threaten public order or stop people from getting on with their daily lives”.

The bill gives a senior police officer powers to impose conditions on a public assembly to “prevent disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation”.

It also includes new laws on unauthorised encampments and damage to memorials.

The proposals have been criticised by the police monitoring group, Netpol. It said today:

“We are opposing planned changes to the law that threaten our right to protest and are calling on other organisations and individuals to join us.”

Netpol also called on the National Police Chiefs Council, the national organisation for chief constables, to adopt a new Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights (see more below).

Protest policing review

New legislation had been expected after the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, asked for a review a year ago of protest policing.

In September 2020, she described activists from the climate change group, Extinction Rebellion, as “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals”. Her comments followed the blockades of newspaper printworks which disrupted distribution of some editions.

In a speech to the Police Superintendents’ Association, she criticised direct action protests by Extinction Rebellion:

“The very criminals who disrupt our free society must be stopped. And together we must all stand firm against the guerilla tactics of Extinction Rebellion.”

Assembly rights charter

The charter from Netpol, to be launched formally next week, calls on the police to accept “greater transparency and accountability” on the way they deal with protests.

Its 11 points include:

  • “Proper protection”, rather than more restrictions on the right to protest
  • An end of routine surveillance of protesters
  • An end to excessive use of force and targeting of organisers for arrest, surveillance and punishment
  • An end to targeting of the most vulnerable.

Netpol said there should be strict limits on the use of police video recording, facial recognition and surveillance of social media sites. The police have a particular duty to protect the rights of young people, vulnerable and disabled people who want to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly, Netpol said.

Link to online petition on the Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights

34 replies »

  1. As I have said before the protections would be there for all protesters & public if all demonstrations were regulated with protestors as members of a organization with organized demonstrations & a requirement of registration with the organization & a numbered identification visability jacket with a for each protestor & the organization responsible & liable for it’s member’s action’s.
    As I previously said the president was set with the greenpeace protestors on the Scottish oil rig where greenpeace was heavily fined for the illegal action of it’s member’s.

    About time aswell.

    • You don’t really understand the concept of protest for positive change, do you? MLK, Ghandi, Pankhurst, Parks, Mandela… all having to register a PLC in order to change the world for the better. Sounds like a good idea for not changing anything for the good of the majority, which is what our government intends.

      • Relaying a positive, peacfull message safe for all can send a stronger message than disruptive, illegal protest organized by a modern day mafia with a stated aim of disruptive protests. Especially where a major national transision is taking place & keeping the nation running smoothly.

        The law is clear & does not give the protesters inflict there personal views or agenda on everyone else.

        • So MH, can we have your views on the protests by MLK, Ghandi, Pankhurst, Parks, Mandela and what they achieved?

        • Godfrey Whitehouse

          You do not need my views on those issues & I am not saying that no protests should take place so protesters can share there views with a wider audience only that it should be orderly & regulated as for all other organizations & buisnesses are or face the consequences.

          If you believe & are intent on promoting anarchy, disruption into a system that is in transition you will have to face those consequences.

          While I understand that not everyone will agree with some or all of the governments policy for that transition which has been stated through it’s white paper they have a responsibility to the majority to keep the country running & the lights on & people in work, keeping a roof over there heads & food in there children’s mouth’s while that major shift takes place with the raw materials currently available to achieve that goal.

          Maybe you should look at what has already been achieved & announced for the future & difference that this will make within the stated timeframe as I see no recognition of the transition while securing a sustainable secure future for all.

      • I think MH understands quite well, DD.

        I certainly did protest when at University. It was standard practice that there were Student Union stewards to control the protest, not only for the convenience and safety of the public, but also for the students. This controlled the ability for fringe groups, or even unassociated groups to cause mayhem.

        The action of a few from XR trying to interrupt the free press has made this inevitable. Too close to 1930s Germany. Maybe you find burning books a sign of positive change? And, then, where does it stop? For all those you reference they are as many who also wanted to change the world for their better, but maybe not so convenient to mention-I think the Court cases are still underway with regard to the Capitol.

        • Martin Collyer. Do I understand you are saying that you support the Capitol Hill rioters in their attempt to change the world for the better?

          • No, you misread Godfrey.

            I stated “their better”. Not mine, not supported by me.

            But, there you go. How easy it is to get confused with simple statements of fact. And to quote cases that support a proposition whilst ignoring cases that do not, when there are just as many examples. The one sided equation rules again.

    • From:-
      Netpol. The Network For Police Monitoring.
      Government announces new restrictions to the right to protest.
      Mar 9, 2021



      Looking at the headings to the document, you will see that the issue of restrictions to peaceful protest, are buried in other headings, that, if not investigated, will seek to disguise the protest issue amongst some far more important issues, such as “Child sex abuse laws extended to cover sports coaches and faith leaders”. And it will be interesting to see what the third headline implications are in legal terms regarding: “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill introduced to Parliament today”?

      1. Punishments to reflect severity of crimes with police given stronger powers and protections
      2. Child sex abuse laws extended to cover sports coaches and faith leaders
      3. Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill introduced to Parliament today

      Perhaps there is a certain amount of baby and bathwater in play with this bill? But the implications of all the headlines cannot be confused or conflated to avoid the issues of the legal right of protest.

      “The government is planning to make important changes to the law that will restrict the right to protest when lock down restrictions ease.”


      Looking at the Gov.uk document above.
      The issues of legislating for more restrictions to the Right Of Protest or any other Human Right, considering UK citizens Human Rights are protected under the UN Human Rights Act 1998.

      There are already extensive legal protections to the Human Rights of protest and to the law and the public for keeping the peace.
      Therefore, in order to enact any such modifications to the Human Rights Act 1998, the government would have to either seek such modifications to the The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the The United Nations Commission on Human Rights to which UK Government is a signatory. Or entirely withdraw from any intention to protect any Human Rights in the UK.
      There are no half way measures.

      “We (NETPOL) oppose this new planned legislation and instead demand that the National Police Chiefs Council adopts a new, eleven-point Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights – or explain why they refuse to do so.
      Why is this important?”

      “Police chiefs and government ministers are seeking new powers to clamp down protests that may cause disruption and, in particular, that involve direct action and civil disobedience. These changes are an unnecessary attack on the freedom to protest.”

      “Netpol’s Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights calls on the National Police Chiefs Council (the national body for Chief Constables) to accept greater transparency and accountability for the way protests are policed, based on international human rights standards.”

      “There have already been repeated attempts to convince senior officers to publish their own guidelines. Despite promises to do so, they have been reluctant to explain how police will protect, not restrict, the right to protest. With new restrictions planned, we are tired of waiting.”

      “Backed by a coalition of other organisations, the Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights sets out what people taking part in protests can expect from the police. It calls for:

      * Proper protections – not more restrictions – for the right to protest. This includes an end to treating direct action and civil disobedience as an excuse to shut down protests completely.

      * An end to routine surveillance of protesters. This includes strict limitations on the use of police video recording, use of facial recognition, and surveillance of social media sites used by campaigners.

      * An end to the excessive use of force and the targeting of organisers for arrest, surveillance and punishment. Black-led protests in particular disproportionately face excessive and violent interventions by police.

      * An end to targeting the most vulnerable. The police have a particular duty to protect the rights of young people, vulnerable and disabled people wishing to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly”

      “Support the campaign by signing and sharing the petition.”


      So, perhaps this intention to push through more restrictions to the Human Rights of freedom of thought action and protest in the UK, will have far more extensive impacts on the very fundamental principles on which the Democracy of the UK is of any value whatsoever.

      It will be interesting to see what Parliament will have to say on these far reaching consequences to everyone in the UK.

      Always better to open up the issue into the consequences of this presented bill isnt it?

      [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

      • NETPOL – as far as I recall it was confirmed on this BB that they have no legal power and are not part of any formal consultation process? Perhaps I am wrong?

        Although I expect I am right as they appear to be resorting to 38degrees to get their message across?

        As you have noted PhilC, let’s see what Parliament make of it, and accept the outcome whatever that may be?

        • Perhaps its that Netpol represents a much more focussed informed opinion on police activities and behaviour than the average person who only looks at these things once in a while Paul.

          So for that reason alone, is far more informed and focussed on these issues. More so than your or my opinion on the issues, or of anyone else on Drill or Drop?

          Therefore, it may be said, of specific interest for that very close association with police matters.

          As to what ever outcome Parliament make of it, one hopes in an informed way, will always be open to debate, since nothing is written in stone, nor should it be.

  2. And this is what happens when a tiny minority seek to impose their will on everyone else, and abuse the freedoms this country offers.

  3. Show your disapproval 20th of this month in London, they can not manage thousands, get there with your banners etc and stick close to each other

    • In the middle of a Pandemic…you want thousands to stick together! All the idiots are not all in a secure institution it seems!

    • Well, ID, I believe mass gatherings are still banned in order to protect people from DYING.

      So, thanks for the demonstration (no pun intended) of the irresponsible actions that can be excited without such legislation.

      Somewhat surprised that DoD allow such to feature.

    • Obviously happy to inflict more strain on the NHS and cancel out all the sacrifice the GOOD people of this great country have made over recent times to have your faces on the BBC News at Six to massage your own ego !!!

  4. “And this is what happens when a tiny minority seek to impose their will on everyone else, and abuse the freedoms this country offers.” … eloquently describing exactly what our government appears to be achieving.

    • Well said, Sage. And this really is imposing government’s will on everyone else. No democratic way out of the immediacy of this threat other than….protest and demonstration – the only way to avoid government’s abuse of our freedoms, but not of course guaranteed to succeed.

  5. The tiny minority who seek to impose their will on everyone else are the 10% of the earth’s population who are responsible for 50% of the total carbon emissions.

    • Well, Melvyn, you can always reduce your carbon emissions, but your post shows you don’t want to do that.

      Last time I checked around 18% of the worlds population had been on a ‘plane, but there were many more who were intending to use one in their lifetime.

      Perhaps transport emissions are a problem? Yes, they are.

      So, let’s maximise local sourcing of materials where we can and reduce those transport emissions eg. UK on shore oil and gas-and other things. That may not overcome others extra consumption but controlling the controllable is achievable, and to campaign against is just irresponsible. And even worse when campaigners are travelling from all over in fossil fueled vehicles to campaign against local sources of fossil fuels.

      And as for Sage, on the day that it is confirmed that the reparability of electrical goods will be enforced by this government, the reality is somewhat different. Maybe not so many replacement white goods being shipped from China, so another practical step that should be welcomed but will be ignored by those who want to paint a different picture. (Mind you, I do wonder how the spare parts will be priced!)

  6. It is most important that those citizens who would be most adversely affected by developments of any kind whether new build properties, medical processes, fossil fuel extraction operations, reservoir creation, industrial or chemical processing plants or rail or road expansion be given the opportunity to strongly state their cases through a fair discussions and negotiations process.
    This would of course include spreading their concerns through impartial mainstream media coverage. Unlike the censored biased offerings showing only Establishment propaganda that we have been increasingly subjected to over the last few years.
    Were this the case protestor presence outside government offices or sites of concern would not be required to keep industries and governments honest and accountable.

    [Word added at poster’s request]

  7. It’s rather more complicated than some suggest. Protesters do not “ inflict there {sic) personal views or agenda on everyone else”, nor do they “impose their will on everyone else”, they present an alternative view to that prevailing in government’s theory or practice. They do not always succeed, take for example the second referendum vote campaign. Nothing was imposed here, and if inflicting one’s views simply means speaking out, then we are all guilty.
    Of course, demonstrations should be policed: the police must protect the right to assembly and the persons assembling as well possibly as their opponents and the general public and their rights. It’s a delicate matter. What is at stake with this proposed legislation, arising from a review called for by a Home Secretary accused of bullying, is the ‘right’ to spontaneous protest as well as to organised protest. Mass protest will of course almost always impinge upon the rights of other citizens. It’s a matter for fine judgement, not taking the proverbial sledgehammer to crack the nut.
    In this context the words of Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail might provide food for thought.

    “ Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

    My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”

    One asks, why the sledgehammer? Possible answer, because privileged groups are not prepared to give up their privileges and because the police present a convenient vehicle for securing such a position. A totalitarian position!
    In so far as the proposed legislation represents an attempt to weaken opposition, it is unjust. King again –

    “One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

    Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

    Matters seem to be not quite so simple as some suggest.

    • Hmm.

      I seem to remember there were antis who were disgusted regarding some of the protestors activities at PNR, so not much sign of control there.

      I even recall one regular contributor on this site declaring he would no longer contribute because elements were infiltrating the protest who were undesirable-he has since returned.

      So, without self control there needs to be control imposed by legislation. If you believe laws are unjust then within a democracy there are means to modify them, but perhaps you will just find the majority within that democracy feels the same laws are just. The laws one person like 1720 feel are unjust and should be disobeyed is their opinion. Maybe someone with a car that can travel at 100mph and does in other countries, should be allowed to do so in UK?

      And, as far as the Home Office is concerned, they have for a long time required shaking up. If they then whinge that is bullying, I am all for it, otherwise there just might be repeats of past issues they have produced and maintained and avoided responsibility.

      • I’m sure your reply is entirely relevant, Martin. I just can’t quite see how. Perhaps you can explain it all to this bear of little brain. Or are these just random thoughts about very little in particular? Disgusted antis! Returning regulars! There’s no such thing as just or unjust, merely how you happen to feel! You can always change something in a democracy – (things like, racism, inequality, the protected dependence on fossil fuels, inaction on global warming?) ! It’s OK to bully Home Office staff!
        Perhaps you can clarify for me, preferably without the trivialising (and trivial) irrelevant speeding car arguments.
        Oh, and by the way. Most of my post tries to justify protest in the words of MLK who felt that democracy was failing to protect the individual from the state. The burning of books in fascist Germany was an action approved of by the state: protest by the few brave failed to stop the rise of fascism, as did democracy. Your argument seems to condone this as maybe “a majority within that democracy [felt] the same laws [were] just.”

        • Bullying was a claim made, 1720. Do you know whether it happened, or do you just find it convenient that it might have? Perhaps you do not have a concern about the issues that the Home Office allowed and encouraged to happen and Minister’s got the blame-such as Windrush? So, yes, I believe the Home Office needs a lot of reform and if a few have their feathers ruffled, then, no, I am not concerned. And, if some misogynists were against reform and were shouted at, about time. They did not show much support for two previous female Home Secretaries either. This one seems to have a backbone.

          If you want to search for the disgusted antis you can trawl back through past posts, or if you wish to find the returning regular you can do the same. He isn’t far away.

          Yes, I noticed your big support for the 1st Amendment. Why not move on to the 2nd? That one not quite so convenient, is it? But that is your habit. Hang your hat on one branch and ignore the rest of the tree. Back to HS2!

          And, if you believe 1930s Germany was a democracy, then I suggest you study some more history. It is when groups decide their view is more important than the laws that democracy is in danger, because there is no one to say which are “good” causes and which lead to ruin. So, there are then new laws made to stop that being the issue. There are plenty of ways to protest and not cause mayhem, or serious disruption to others. Maybe they do not get the attention but that is no excuse, because attention wanes anyway, so then more and more extreme methods are needed. Hence the current situation. Made by certain groups and a reaction produced. Just not the reaction they would like-but that is democracy.

          Much as it is difficult for you, previous posts on this subject clearly do demonstrate how easy it is for causes to be utilised even to the point of spreading a deadly virus which is still killing hundreds every day in the UK. So, please do not direct to me what I am condoning. You need to address that one, before you start justifying protest outside of the law. It clearly does not always lead with MLK, sometimes it leads to Capitol Hill. Perhaps you need to do a bit more climbing before you can view the other side?

          • I bet you’re a wow in the local, Martin. Better leave it there. Life’s too short to spend all day dissecting your comments for fact and fiction relevance and irrelevance, prejudice and informed opinion, comprehension and incomprehension. If your arguments stand the rational examination of some, so be it – although I feel I ‘m letting the side down.

            • There we go again, 1720.

              Not only do you want to decide the good laws and the bad laws, but you also want to decide what is relevant! A long way from democracy.

              Remember, though, it was YOU who introduced the subject of HS2, and then subsequently wanted to declare that it was irrelevant.

              Perhaps remember the adage all should in the local:

              “Don’t go there, if you then have an issue extracting yourself”. Also applies to conversation and social media. It was the most common advice I had to give when mentoring young sales people, reminding them customers did remember what had been said previously.

              I can help you out. There is no fiction within my posts. Certainly I have been able to repeatedly show that from others but I have not been lured into that. As for prejudice-nope, not into that. But I do recognise it is the defence of those on social media who are desperate to find the woke escape route. Sorry, just not applicable. Suggest you do not attempt any of that in my local.

              Not good examples of relevance from yourself, but that’s okay. Practicing and preaching?

  8. From Netpol:-

    “The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our ability to take to the streets. Now the Home Office is busy preparing, in readiness for when public health restrictions start to ease, to make sweeping changes to public order legislation that will give the police extra powers to restrict future protests.

    The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill announced today includes plans to “strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to Parliament”.

    Home Secretary Priti Patel’s anger is aimed in particular at Extinction Rebellion and the rejuvenated Black Lives Matter movement. Last year she attacked Extinction Rebellion as “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals” and denounced their direct action and civil disobedience tactics as “a shameful attack on our way of life, our economy and the livelihoods of the hard-working majority”.

    Patel has also condemned Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020 – some of the biggest seen in recent years. Although protesters took to streets that were largely empty because of the pandemic to demand racial justice and most protests passed without incident, Patel characterised them as “dreadful” and demonised those who took part in them “hooligans and thugs”. The new Bill will increase the maximum penalty for criminal damage of a memorial – like the statue to Bristol slave trader Edward Colston toppled in June last year – from 3 months to 10 years.

    Netpol’s report last year highlighted, however, how it was Black-led demonstrations that were more likely to experience aggressive, more confrontational policing.

    In the aftermath of a summer of demonstrations in 2020, Patel requested a review by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue (HMICFR) to look at the way protests are policed and whether police forces should have new public order laws to protect “the rights of others to go about their daily business”.

    In the course of its consultation for the review, HMICFR indicated to Netpol that the government wants to challenge the perceived legitimacy of certain protest tactics by groups like Extinction Rebellion, as well as to give the police the power to more widely interpret whether protests like Black Lives Matter constitute “significant disruption” and are therefore likely to justify arrests.

    Even before protests by Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter, the police seemed to believe that rights to freedom of assembly are “abused” by even minor breaches of the law, such as blocking roads. A much-delayed draft ‘Protest Operational Advice’ for local forces, produced by the National Police Chiefs Council in 2018 and based largely on the policing of five years of opposition to fracking, relied heavily on the notion that human rights protections for protests should not extend to activities that negate the rights of others, including companies.

    As Netpol’s Lawyers Group said in a submission at the time, there is absolutely no legal basis for such a claim, which would “constitute a doctrinal leap of massive proportions on current case-law principles”. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence that the police have continued to lobby hard for tougher new laws.

    The Home Secretary’s plans look, on the face of it, like a combination of defending business interests and petty vengeance against political and social movements she dislikes. However, they are unlikely to frighten off many campaign groups from returning to the streets once the current restrictions end. With institutional racism and climate change still acutely critical issues, more arrests and more criminalisation therefore seems inevitable.”

    Perhaps that explains the impetus and cause of this interference in Human Rights from Priti Patel’s and that it is the police themselves who may be a significant “force” behind this move. Maybe urged on or managed by Priti Patel. Who it may be said is somewhat significantly authoritarian and aggressive in her attitude towards even her own staff let alone possibly private internal issues she feels strongly about.

    As far as I am aware, the police are bound by their oath of allegence to the the public and the Queen, and are not a government controlled institution. Also the police are similarly not allowed to be instruments of influence and policy in governmental affaires or manipulation thereof.

    However, the local councils countrywide, and hence the police pension funds are undoubtedly investors in the fossil fuel industry to the tune of many billions of pounds. Perhaps there is a link between the police pension funds and the actions of attempting to influence the government to legislate in order to allow for greater and greater draconian and enforcement control over any public protest about fossil fuel industry activities?

    Which poses some very interesting questions and circular arguments, that extend to other Drill or Drop posts.

    Fascinating isnt it?

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