Civil liberties campaigners have condemned police plans for dealing with demonstrations as an “assault” on human rights.
This morning, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published its proposals for future protest policing.
The HMICFRS report was ordered by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, after Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests last year. Two days ago, the government published the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which aims to give more powers to officers when policing protests. DrillOrDrop report
Matt Parr, from HMICFRS, said:
“The police need to strike the correct balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of others, such as local residents and businesses.
“We found that the police too often do not find the balance between protecting the rights of the protesters and preventing excessive disruption to daily life, which even peaceful protest can sometimes cause.
“We concluded that, with some qualifications, changes to the law would improve police effectiveness, and that the legislation could be framed in a way that is compatible with human rights.”
The report called for improved police intelligence on protests, including use of facial recognition technology.
It replaced the term domestic extremist, previously applied by some forces to anti-fracking campaigners, with “aggravated activists”.
It recommended better coordination of police operations against alleged aggravated activists that travelled “significant distances” to attend and speak at demonstrations. This could be through disruption of travel, arrest, and co-ordination of bail conditions”, the report said.
The policing monitoring group, Netpol, described this as:
“a genuinely alarming public call for the disruption of entirely lawful activities”.
Netpol said the HMICFRS report:
“provides a green light for a renewed expansion of surveillance on political and social movements”.
In a statement, Gracie Bradley, a director of the civil rights group, Liberty, said:
“It’s a primary duty of Government to ensure that our communities are safe and free. But parts of this Bill will facilitate discrimination and undermine protest, which is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. We should all be able to stand up for what we believe in, yet these proposals would give the police yet more powers to clamp down on protest. They risk stifling dissent and making it harder for us to hold the powerful to account.
“While we are still in the grip of a pandemic that has changed all our lives and handed enormous powers to the Government, it is shocking that this executive has chosen now to launch such a broad assault on our rights under the guise of safer communities.
“We must reject the politics of division that the Government is proposing through this Bill and protect each other and our ability to stand up to power.”
The Good Law Project said it had instructed a QC and junior barrister to examine the human rights implications of the bill. Its director, Jolyon Maugham, said:
“The disproportionate measures proposed in the Bill … risk undermining the freedom of assembly and association protected under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.
“It should worry us all that the Government has chosen to attack our rights.”
Alanna Byrne, of Extinction Rebellion, said:
“What is the real issue here? At a time when the country is experiencing anger and frustration about an uncertain future, about racial inequality, about nurses on the front line who are being told to feel thankful they are employed, and environmental destruction, it’s not new police powers that we need but some compassionate leadership from the government.
“Priti Patel can try and make the UK a protest free zone, but it’s clear that the government is not going to do the right thing without protestors holding them to account so we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. They can try to make it a crime to care but they will not stop people from caring.”
Who is an “aggravated activist”?
The HMICFRS report defined aggravated activism as:
“activity that seeks to bring about political or social change but does so in a way that involves unlawful behaviour or criminality, has a negative impact upon community tensions, or causes an adverse economic impact to businesses”
Netpol this would apply to:
“anyone who risks arrest by taking part in a protest, using the kind of direct action of civil disobedience tactics that the government’s proposed new legislation is trying to crack down on. However, it potentially anyone who is also caught up in arrests and accused of unlawful behaviour or criminality – or is simply present when their friends are arrested.”
This provided justification for extensive and better coordinated intelligence gathering on individual campaigners, Netpol said.
The group said HMICFRS’s reference to “adverse economic impact to business” was:
“aimed squarely at protecting corporate and business interests against challenges from campaigners over their lack of action on catastrophic climate change, their sales to repressive regimes that disregard human rights, or their undermining of workers rights.”
“every historical campaign – from the suffragist movement to trade unions and equality protests – have involved actions that at the time were considered criminality or unlawful behaviour.
“Under the new definition, everyone who has fought for rights that we now take for granted would have.”