Clauses 54-60, Part 3: Public order
Clauses 54-60 in Part 3 of the Bill effectively criminalise protests that cause disruption – defined in broad and vague terms – even in the case of one-person protests.
Clauses 54-56 and 60 allow police to place conditions on protests as a response to “the noise generated by persons taking part” as well as to impose penalties on those breaching such conditions if they “ought to have known” they were in place. As Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told Parliament: “That would have the effect of criminalising people who unwittingly breach conditions”.
Importantly, existing laws already place conditions on protests when they cause danger – for example, if an ambulance is not able to pass. The new provisions tighten police control much further.
Ten-year sentences for being annoying
As well as amending the Public Order Act 1986 to tighten police control of protests, this section also introduces a new statutory offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”.
People found guilty of this new offence, which includes causing “serious annoyance” or “serious inconvenience” – or even just causing the risk that said annoyance and inconvenience will take place – are liable to be imprisoned for up to ten years if convicted on indictment or 12 months if convicted summarily.
Elsewhere in the Bill, similarly high sentences are imposed on those causing damage to statues and memorials, presumably as a response to the toppling of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue by Black Lives Matter protestors in Bristol. Under the proposed law, said protestors could be looking at ten years in prison. This – as many opposition MPs pointed out during the debate – is a longer sentence than that given for violent crimes against living people. Indeed, it is twice the length of the maximum sentence for assault causing actual bodily harm (five years).
As Labour MP, Peter Kyle, pointed out on Monday, an “angry mob” that throws a statue in a Bristol harbour “and then turns around and throws a woman or a child into water” would be penalised more harshly for the first offence than for the second.
“No Government should ever send out a signal that the safety of a statue carries greater importance in our laws than the safety of women,” Nick Thomas-Symonds said, adding that “this Bill has now been extended to every form of memorial, including statues of slave traders.”
Keeping protests out of sight of those in power