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Policing Bill - a threat to rightful protest?

March 18, 2021 4:13 PM
By Toby Price

Chalfont St Giles resident Toby Price has written to local MP Dame Cheryl Gillan to express his views about the Government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

In his letter he wrote:

"Dear Dame Cheryl.

I am certain you do not wish this country to be aligned with countries such as Hong Kong and Myanmar in the way protests are handled.

The Policing Bill is taking us in that direction and reinforces messages to the Police that led to the upsetting and unnecessary scenes in London on Saturday.

Please, please scrutinise the bill and influence its passing with all your powers to make sure peaceful protest is not restricted.

I know you don't agree with my views on Brexit, but I'm sure you will agree that the three large marches in London were amazingly peaceful and did nothing to damage the UK's reputation. If anything they showed how tolerant we can be, even when we don't agree. Even the XR protests were by and large very peaceful. I witnessed the one at Bank in London and the mood from everyone I met, including those inconvenienced, was positive. The police too reacted in a constrained way on that day.

There does need to be governance over protests that may cause trouble and the old Public Order Act dealt with these through terms such as 'serious public order'. These gave the Police sufficient powers and only need to be modernised for our times, not fundamentally changed. The same is true for 'disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation' - all covered already.

The terms in the new bill relating to 'noise' and 'annoyance' are much too vague and could cause chaos in the midst of a large, legally arranged protest, if the Police felt it should be quickly disbanded, potentially leading to violence on the fringes.Ten years in prison is also an untenable ceiling for crimes of this nature, rather akin to fining a student £10,000 for holding a party in my opinion.

Demonstrators can be prosecuted if they 'ought to know' about a protest being disbanding. This will be almost impossible to police and will lead to very unfair court decisions.Banning Steve Bray from Parliament Square may ease an inconvenience during television interviews, but does it really warrant a change in the law?

Finally, why does the Home Secretary need the ability to invoke Statutory Instruments in the Bill. This is perhaps the darkest part of the Bill and leads us in the direction of a Police State. "If I don't like something, and I think the law isn't good enough to implement a restriction, I can finesse the law without Parliamentary scrutiny". This is NOT the same as changing the type of speed camera that can be used (a typical usage) and is highly dangerous. The Bill should be expertly worded, so that the lazy approach with Statutory Instruments is not required.

Demonstrations are to quote Ian Dunt, "the free speech of the unheard". Those who do not have a platform on GMB or in the lobbying areas of Parliament.

Please don't allow this Bill to destroy our hard-earned freedoms. What would the Suffragettes or the Anti-Slavery Society have thought?

Thanks in advance."

Policing Bill