TRIGGER WARNING - Reference to sexual assault

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 was announced on the 9th March and has already reached its second reading in the House of Commons, which means therefore, it has a very good chance of being passed into law.

The Bill was in response to British protests in very recent history, notably the Sarah Everard vigil, Black Lives Matter protests, Kill the Bill protests, and Extinction Rebellion. Although there are other provisions within it, one of the main components is the limits it places on people’s right to protest, and the extension of powers it grants to the police. Nearly every single human right’s organisation has come out against the bill, claiming that it is an infringement of the article 10 human right to freedom of speech, and yet somehow this still may become law. As Gracie Bradley, Interim Leader of Liberty UK states: “Protest isn’t a gift from the State – it’s our fundamental right and under human rights law…”

There are some key measures in the Bill that warrant uproar:

  • The bill hands over the power of deciding whether a protest is justified or should be allowed directly to the Home Secretary.

Most protests are in response to something the government is not doing, right? So, do we think that Priti Patel, a cabinet member of the current government, is really going to say any protest is justified since it will most likely be in response to action or lack thereof from the government to which she is a part of? It is citizens who hold the right to decide whether their belief, and subsequent desire to protest as a response to that belief, is justified.

  • The Bill includes measures to enhance stop & search and restrict the right to roam, making it very easy for police to stop and search people who have been known to carry a knife in the past.

As we know from last years Black Lives Matter protests, the UK government needs to work on the severity of stop and search, but instead the Conservatives have decided to increase stop and search measures further. Official figures for England and Wales 2019-2020 show that black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people.

  • ·The Bill prevents demonstrations from being held “around Parliament”. Police will have the power to remove anyone restricting vehicle access to Parliament. This is under the pretence of protecting MP’s.

Firstly, it is important to note that MP’s already have legal protection for their safety, and this Bill will not be providing MP’s with much more protection from violence than they already have under law, both as a member of parliament and a general person. Instead, this provision is scarily limiting the scope of protests. Protests happening in central London and near Parliament is a large part of their ability to be heard, not many officials capable of inflicting real change will be aware of protests that aren’t taking place near Parliament Square – these are the people who need to see the protests the most as they have the power to respond. Many marginalised people will not have a voice in their local area, and this provision will limit the one place their voice may be heard.

  • It will also become a crime to fail to follow restrictions the protesters "ought" to have known about, even if they have not received a direct order from a police officer.

Under current law, police need to prove protesters knew they had been told to move on, before they can be said to have broken the law – the phrase “if its not broken then don’t fix it” springs to mind.

  • One provision in the policing bill currently before Parliament specifically increases the penalty for damaging statues, this follows the removal by protestors of the Bristol statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. The provision states that damage to memorials could lead to up to 10 years in prison.

That’s right, you could enjoy greater punishment for toppling slave trader memorials than the actual slave traders got. Former Home Secretary David Blunkett noted that “It’s ironic that this bill would mean far harsher treatment for protesters in Parliament Square, where statues commemorate Mandela and Gandhi, leaders of historic disruptive, noisy and annoying protest movements now taught in British schools.”

Furthermore, protests since the announcing of the bill have marched with signs that have read “10 years for protest, 5 years for rape”. Labour MP Jess Philips tweeted that the bill “does absolutely nothing currently to increase sentences for rapists, stalkers, or those who batter, control and abuse women”. In 2017, only 3.3% of reported rapes resulted in a conviction, and around 15% of rapes are reported. So the vast majority of rapists are roaming the streets whilst those who protests for their rights may end up in prison.

Here’s a crazy idea for the government – rather than respond to protests by criminalising protests, why don’t you actually consider addressing what people were protesting about?

Like changing the law so that those disgusting rape statistics can change.

Or, for example, rather than criminalise Extinction Rebellion protests (whose 2019 London protests were a large motive for this Bill), why don’t you try listening to the science-backed arguments they put forward, and listen to their cries about the fact that the world is literally going to end and the government, who is voted in to protect and represent us, is doing nothing about it?

In the 1960’s, Robert F. Kennedy once said “we shouldn’t just deplore the lawlessness and deplore the violence, we should pass the laws that remedy what people riot about.”

Most people reading this may have been to little to no protests in their life, but this is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether you personally feel the need to protest, because this doesn’t change the fact that it is a human right, legally. For those who may feel directly unaffected by this Bill, it is important to be aware that it is a privilege to not be so affected by something that you feel the need to protest about it.

The government also need to be aware that this bill will backfire – instead of stopping protests it will simply increase unsafe protests, increase unnecessary criminal convictions, and increase animosity towards the state.

The most powerful thing we can do to present our disdain towards this is contact your MP, bombard them with emails, letters, etc. There is a template that you can use here, all you have to do is add your name. Remember that it is by definition their job to represent us.

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