UK Politics

Is the Government trying to end protests in the UK?

A new bill being pushed by the conservatives is threatening protests as we know them today.

6th April 2021 18:00 BST

Among other, hopefully obvious downsides of the pandemic has been the increase in authoritarian rule. It made sense: governments don’t have time to scrutinise and debate such important legislation, where every wasted second may cost another life. So when bills were passed giving governments the power to act quickly in the face of disaster, nobody batted an eye. But it seems that they may have enjoyed the power a little bit too much.

 

When social distancing was imposed, pass protests became illegal. Not because you cannot express your opinion publicly, but because there were too many people too close together. But it seems that Parliament has enjoyed these quieter months and are trying to make it a more permanent change.

 

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, which is currently in the Committee stage, plans to impose a start and finish time, set noise limits for protests, and apply these rules to just one person. That means just one man with a megaphone could be fined up to £2,500. Expecting those fighting for something they strongly believe in to stick to noise limits is certainly wishful thinking, but it is not foolish.

 

Setting the noise limit too low purposefully gives the police force the perfect excuse to end any protest the government may not politically agree with, essentially giving them a tool to decide which protests can go full force, and which are strongly limited. Whether this problem will be abused or not is to be seen, and to assume that the government would take advantages of loopholes is pessimistic.

 

The bill doesn’t just focus on protests, also working toward further homicide prevention and to increase collaboration between authorities to prevent more serious crimes. Both are welcome changes to out-of-date legislation but are being used to hide authoritarian changes to important human rights. The right to protest is part of the Human Rights Act, but they have always been limited in the name of safety, but I believe they are being taken too far.

 

It is true that the Public Order Act 1986 is ill-equipped to deal with modern day protests, only giving police the ability to stop protests if they are likely to cause serious damage. The likes of the Black Lives Matter movement and Extinction Rebellion use other tactics to get their voices heard, most famously blocking roads, a tactic used by XR which should be tackled in new legislation.

 

MP Robert Buckland, the Secretary of State for Justice, told us that he believes that the bill will give ‘the police and courts the powers they need to keep our streets safe’, and that there will be a ‘crack down on crime’.

 

However, it is possible that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill would give the police too much power, giving them the ability to restrict protests that make a ‘relevant impact’ on nearby people. Considering what the point of a protest is, this seems far too harsh, essentially giving the police near unlimited power. This is not the way to tackle the issue.

 

It seems that the bill certainly has some good aspects, but for me it should not be passed. Placing such severe limitations on a human right is never a good idea, and protests are not a crime, but a method of communication. A radical method yes, but an important one. But with the power of a majority in Parliament, the bill may be passed anyway, and the country will be worse for it.

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