'The threshold would be so low that it could lead to police imposing conditions on protests which would breach the rights of protesters.'
The Tory government has this week sought to push through secondary legislation which is the most draconian yet when it comes to the rights of protesters, as it would give the police near ‘total discretion’ over which protests to ban should it pass.
Amendments to the Public Order Act 1986 would significantly lower the threshold for police intervention on protests, as it would empower officers to impose conditions – including changing timings, locations and routes, and imposing noise restrictions – on protests they believe “may” cause “more than minor” disruption.
A protest is, by its very nature, noisy and disruptive, and such a lowering of the threshold would mean the government will be handing over even more powers to the police to impose conditions on protests.
The latest legislation, which is in the Lords today, should be viewed in its wider context of a determined effort by the Tory government to clamp down on the right to protest, after the Public Order Act 2023 which became law last month, gave police expanded stop and search powers, allowing them to stop and search individuals without suspicion of a crime taking place.
The Act also created the criminal offence of ‘being equipped for locking-on’, which means that protesters, and also innocent bystanders, risk being criminalised for possessing objects such as bicycle locks or glue.
Meanwhile, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act weakened the right to protest by giving police officers the power to limit any protest deemed ‘a nuisance’ or ‘noisy.’
Commenting on the latest attempt to further lower the threshold before police can interfere with protests, Adam Wagner, a barrister with Doughty Street Chambers, told the Guardian: “The threshold would be so low that it could lead to police imposing conditions on protests which would breach the rights of protesters.
“In my view, this could give the police a far wider, nearing total, discretion as to which processions or assemblies could be made subject to conditions.”
A draconian piece of legislation that must be opposed, given not only the dangerous precedent it sets but also for undermining a very basic right in any democracy, the right to protest.
Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward