Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns over the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the right to protest.
I believe this is a sensible and proportionate piece of legislation which introduces a number of reasonable measures. These include changing sentencing rules so serious criminals can spend more time in jail before they can be conditionally released; allowing judges to consider jailing child murderers for their entire lives and doubling maximum sentences for low-level assaults against emergency service workers.
However, I understand your concerns about the right to protest; I do not believe this is affected by the Bill. Much of the legislative framework on managing protests in currently under the Public Order Act 1986. This is no longer fit for managing the types of protests we experience today. When using powers in the Bill, or existing public order powers, the police must act within the law and be able to demonstrate their use of powers are necessary and proportionate. They must still act compatibly with human rights, principally Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Measures in the Bill extend the ability of the police to place conditions on static protests which are already in place for marches. These include start/finish times and noise limits.
The proposed law includes an offence of "intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance". This is designed to stop people blocking the path of ambulances, chaining themselves to trains, or blockading printing presses, or employing other protest tactics that restrict the freedoms of others. The move to introduce such legislation is not solely a Government a decision but also a recommendation by the Law Commission to introduce a statutory offence of public nuisance, and repeal and restate the existing common law offence.
The highly disruptive tactics used by some protesters cause a disproportionate impact on the surrounding communities and I welcome the approach of this Bill to balance the rights of both.
The bill does not restrict the right to speak up or to protest and yesterday’s vote moves the Bill to Committee Stage where it will be further scrutinised and amended. I was pleased to contribute to the recent debate and you can read my contribution via the link below:
It is my hope that where further clarification and specificity is required it will be amended so as to reassure the public that this is not a restriction on civil liberties but a bill that enhances faith and understanding in the justice system and police force.
I look forward to examining and scrutinising it as it progresses through Parliament.