On the 9th of March, the Government proposed a new Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill to the House of Commons for 2021. “The first duty of government is to protect its citizens and communities, keep them safe and to ensure that they can get on with their daily lives peacefully and without unnecessary interference.”
According to the Government, this bill has been focused on protecting citizens from interference, including a set of laws and regulations on how the police will be able to handle protestors and their protests. So, what exactly does the Bill state in regard to these gatherings? There are a number of changes they wish to make around the power the police have during protests. It effectively criminalises gatherings that cause disruption which encompasses criminalising noise, amends the Public Order Act 1986 and introduces a new statutory offence of ‘intentionally causing public nuisance’. This could see protestors fined up to £2,500 and potentially imprisoned for up to 10 years if found to have caused damage to memorials or public statues.
With this being said, why do minsters and police believe this is a necessary step in order to help manage protests? Many police chiefs have stated they felt frustrated by their lack of control during the demonstrations that took place in Central London back in 2019. This protest brought London to a standstill, with various roads and bridges having to be closed to stop further congestion. However, even with these justifications, some have argued the wording is too ambiguous, as what classes as ‘serious annoyance’?
The new proposed laws against protesting, amongst other factors have sparked rallies within cities like Bristol, with crowds gathering for ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrations. However, back in March, what started out as a lively but not aggressive protest, quickly turned into a violent riot in which many were hurt. From breaking glass to setting fire to police vans, Bristol saw a second night of unrest over the new bill, with riot police moving individuals off College Green and arresting 14 others.
But it’s not just the ambiguity of the wording that has sparked outrage, it’s also potential increased power this bill gives police officers when breaking up a crowd. According to the BBC News, “The right to protest and express yourself is enshrined in the Human Rights Act. Police commanders have to show they have taken this into account. But that right is not absolute. Protests can be limited by police if they believe they have good reason to impose restrictions on an event to ensure public safety, or to prevent crime.” So, how can this bill work in conjunction, respecting both the human rights of those protesting whilst also protecting those who aren’t involved in these demonstrations? Crowd controlling security measures could be one option for police officers to protect both themselves, protestors and passers-by.
If crowds, like those previously experienced in Bristol, quickly turn from peaceful protesting to violent rioting additional physical security measures could help manage crowds and keep control. Effective physical security measures, like FenceSafe Temporary Systems, deployed could be the answer to maintain public gatherings rather than supressing the human rights of these protestors. With the right crowd controlling equipment guiding protestors and their gatherings into contained areas, this could also mean police are less likely to take a hard line of defence and intervene with the protests.
With scenes showing protests being caused by this bill with potential new laws, could this be an insight into the future? If this bill were to be passed, could it spark more protests in retaliation of the laws rather than reduce them?