A petition against plans to restrict protests has been signed by more than 600,000 people, the organisers said today.
A coalition of groups, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, 38 Degrees, 350.org and Liberty, presented the petition to the UK parliament as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill began its Report stage this afternoon.
Under the proposals, people could be jailed for up to 10 years for causing “serious annoyance or inconvenience” by taking part in protests.
Police could impose legally-binding restrictions on marches or rallies on the grounds that noise “may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or may “have a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity of the protest”.
Anyone breaching conditions imposed by police could be arrested and prosecuted, even if they did not know they were in place. Current legislation says it an offence “knowingly” to fail to comply. But the bill makes it possible for someone to be charged with breaking a restriction which they “knew or ought to have known about”.
There are new controls on protests by a single person and powers to prevent authorised encampments.
Since the bill was published in March, more than 30,000 people have written to the Prime Minister to object.
In a letter to the Homes and Justice Secretaries, 245 organisations described the bill as an “attack” on fundamental rights.
More than 700 of the UK’s leading legal academics have called for the protest sections of the bill to be abandoned.
Opposition MPs have been calling for changes to clauses 55-61 this afternoon. A new clause proposes a code requiring police to facilitate peaceful protest.
The Home Office minister, Victoria Atkins, said the protest sections of the bill had been drawn up based on guidance from the police. Yesterday, senior police officers reportedly said they had not asked for new powers to restrict noisy protests.
In a vote on Monday evening, MPs approved the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill by 365 votes to 265. None of the dozens of amendments that had been proposed were approved. The bill now moves to the House of Lords where there will be further scrutiny and debate.
- A separate parliamentary petition against the bill has attracted 253,041 signatures and closes on 16 September 2021. The government has already responded saying: “The public order measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill do not erode the public’s right to protest; the Government will not be removing these measures from the Bill.”
Updated 6/7/2021 with paragraphs on the parliamentary petition and the vote to approve the bill