Some of our fundamental rights are at risk, rights such as our freedom of assembly (the right to gather which allows us to peacefully protest), increased prison sentences and more police powers to arrest people for peaceful activities. The lifestyle of nomadic, Roma, Traveller and Gypsy communities risk being criminalised and our access to nature restricted.
Parliament first debated the Police, Crime, Sentencing Courts Bill on 15 March 2021. This bill will have serious impacts on our right to a peaceful protest, potentially silencing voices of communities. Peaceful protests and activities have formed an essential part of winning some of our environmental protections. We are calling for Parts 3 (which restricts the right to protest) and 4 (which criminalises tresspass) to be scrapped from the bill.
The Bill attempts to make changes to the Public Order Act 1986. It will expand the conditions that the police can place on ‘static assemblies’ (demonstrations). Currently conditions can be placed on the location, size and duration of a ‘static assembly’ but the bill could widen this to any condition deemed to be ‘necessary’. The Secretary of State could be given the power to change the definition of ‘serious disruption’. Potentially a protest could be deemed too noisy, causing ‘serious disruption’ to an organisation’s activities or having a ‘relevant impact’ on people in the vicinity.
Our right to protest could no longer be as impactful if organisers can’t decide when and where it takes place and it can be stopped because it will impact those the protest intends to reach.
The bill attempts to reduce the threshold for prosecuting someone from breaching police conditions imposed on a protest – rather than knowingly breaching the conditions (as it currently stands), a person merely ‘ought to have known’ about the conditions. This could deter people from organising or taking part in a protest because they may fear arrest for breaching a condition that they are unaware of. The Bill could see conditions placed on protests by a single individual (currently at least 2 people are required).
The Bill would increase the penalty for breaches of conditions from 3 months (currently) to 11 months as well as an increased fine for individuals attending. The Bill could place an offence of intentionally causing a ‘public nuisance’ into law which could carry a maximum sentence of 10 years. Actions under causing a public nuisance could include non-violently obstructing the public or causing serious annoyance or inconvenience (which would be open to police interpretation.
Part 4 of the Bill creates a new offence of trespass by ‘residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle’, criminalising the way of life for nomadic, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. It also covers those who might be ‘intending’ to reside and even gives police the power to confiscate a vehicle. A vehicle to many in these communities are homes.
How can I get involved/take action?
You can help in a variety of ways including;
> Raising awareness about this Bill with family, friends and through your networks.
> Sign this petition
> Get in touch with your MP. You could write to them through email, letter, social media or telephone them or you could attend one of their surgeries.