A mass petition with over 600,000 signatures was delivered to the Government on Monday, demonstrating the strength of public opposition to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (the Policing Bill).
The petition was handed in to parliament as the Third Reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill got underway.
The landmark mass petition was coordinated between humµan rights groups, environmentalists, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller advocates and other charities, gaining 580,000 signatories.
Representatives from this broad coalition of organisations delivered the petition today to the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary, ahead of MPs preparing for the Report stage of the Bill, which also start on Monday.
This follows over 30,000 people writing directly to the Prime Minister to object to the Bill, in an action run by Amnesty UK.
- 600K signatories in landmark opposition to proposed laws
- Leading organisations unite against authoritarian plans
- Widespread protests expected in ‘summer of dissent’ at oppressive Bill
The groups involved in organising the petition include:
- 38 Degrees
- Friends of the Earth
- Global Justice Now
- Tipping Point
Since it was officially tabled earlier this year, the Policing Bill has caused widespread outrage and the petition is the latest sign of a groundswell of objection to the Government’s dangerous proposals, including:
- 245 organisations calling the Bill an ‘attack’ on fundamental rights.
- Over 700 academics calling for the Bill to be dropped.
- Three UN Special Rapporteurs warning the Bill threatens our rights.
- Polling reflecting Brit’s anxieties, with nearly two thirds of the public concerned about the protest crackdown.
- Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights saying its proposals are ‘oppressive and wrong’.
While the Bill covers a broad range of issues, three key areas have concerned human rights campaigners.
These include new police powers which would threaten the right to protest for everyone, including restrictions on noise, ‘nuisance’ and locations of protests.
There are also proposals to increase stop and search powers and a ‘prevent style’ duty on knife crime which Liberty has warned will increase profiling and discriminatory policing of people of colour.
For some the Bill is not just a crackdown – it represents an existential threat.
If passed it could criminalise the entire way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Campaigners from these communities launched a summer-long campaign, starting yesterday, Wednesday 7 July at the Drive 2 Survive demonstration in Parliament Square.
Liberty Director Gracie Bradley said: ‘No matter where we come from or what we believe, we all want to know we can speak out against injustice, to live life freely, as we choose, without fear of oppressive state surveillance and discrimination.
‘Those in power want to take this away from all of us.
‘Opposition to the Government’s dangerous proposals is growing in strength as people begin to understand how much this legislation would undermine fundamental rights.
‘Those in power must listen to the chorus of opposition they are facing and scrap these plans.’
Jake Bowers, co-chair of the Drive 2 Survive campaign, said: ‘The Policing Bill is the single biggest threat to the traditional way of life of Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers in our lifetime.
‘Our communities have unified to fight the bill, but we still need help to stop it.
‘We will peacefully gather in Parliament Square to launch a Summer of Discontent against the Bill and its intention to completely outlaw nomadic Gypsy and Traveller culture across the UK.
‘Our communities and our allies will show the Government that they cannot simply ban our culture and our way of life, and these proposals must be scrapped.’
On Monday in parliament, MPs voted for the ‘draconian’ bill, despite mounting opposition.
The bill backed by the House of Commons allows police to impose restrictions on protests based on noise and ban demonstrations by a single person.
The LibDem home affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, called the protest laws ‘dangerous and draconian’.
‘This new law would allow the police to clampdown on protests for being too noisy, and create 10-year prison sentences just for causing someone “serious annoyance”.’
Labour’s Sarah Jones told the House of Commons the bill’s restrictions on protest go too far, threatening ‘the fundamental balance between the police and the people’.
‘The point of protest is to capture attention,’ said Jones. ‘Protests are noisy, sometimes they are annoying, but they are as fundamental to our democracy as our parliament.’
Conservative former cabinet minister David Davis agreed, pointing to a letter voicing concerns from a number of police chiefs as he told MPs: ‘It hasn’t just been the sort of lefty liberal legal fraternity that have been worried about this.’
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said there is ‘no evidence of a gap in the law’ that needs to be filled and that there are already a ‘range of powers to deal with noise that impacts on the rights and freedoms of others’.
The Bill, which will now be considered by the House of Lords, runs to almost 300 pages and contains laws covering a wide range of issues such as violence prevention, police driving standards and criminal damage to statues.
Ahead of the vote, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovi, wrote to the speakers of the House of Commons and Lords warning that the protest laws violate human rights, warning that the powers could be ‘arbitrarily applied’ and appear to be an extension of a ‘worrying trend’ of growing international restrictions on peaceful protest to ‘minimise dissent’.
United Nations human rights experts, parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and numerous civil society organisations and academic experts have raised similar concerns.
The proposals have sparked nationwide ‘Kill the Bill’ protests.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a 300-page document, and is yet to become law.
It is a controversial Bill with the Government describing as merely a tweak to the current laws.
- The Bill says group protests should not be loud enough to cause ‘serious unease, alarm or distress’ to people ‘in the vicinity’.
- The noise limit also applies to a single individual.
- The determination of ‘serious unease, alarm or distress’ is left to a police officer’s discretion.
- Joint Committee on Human Rights said the legislation could undermine freedom of expression.
- Joint Committee on Human Rights chairwoman, former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, said the plans were ‘oppressive and wrong’.
- Maximum penalty for assaulting emergency workers would increase from one to two years.
- Greater power written in law to stop unauthorised encampments could breach the human rights of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.
Leading Kill the Bill campaigner Sarah Gibbs said: ‘I find it quite shocking that people seem to think the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is not a threat to our human rights.
‘I’m not, however, surprised as it seems to be the narrative that, once again, the mainstream media write.
‘It’s just disappointing that people don’t research things deeper.
‘The mainstream media have not made it common knowledge about the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and the Constitution (APPG) report on the policing of the Sarah Everard Vigil and the Bristol #KillTheBill protests.
‘The message in this is clear: the police failed to understand their obligation to protect the right to protest.
‘It reports that in some cases, the hard-line enforcement approach of the police “caused, or at least exacerbated, some of the violence.”
‘Not to mention the lies regarding police sustaining injuries during the Bristol protests; rather reminiscent of the 2009 G-20 summit.
‘On mainstream media, is there mention of the recent Supreme Court ruling that four protesters did not act unlawfully when obstructing a road outside the controversial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) Arms Fair.
‘The recognition that protests which are deliberately obstructive are still protected under Article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights is crucial to understanding why this Bill is absolutely a threat to our democracy.
‘Disruptive protests can and do change things. Each case must be judged on its own merits, but when protesters are exercising their rights to free speech and assembly (under Article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights), they have a “lawful excuse”.
‘The changes to the Bill give police more powers to shut protest down rather than facilitate them. It is a direct threat to Article 10 and 11.
‘The proposed control measures of peaceful protests, such as specified areas to protest in and noise volume levels are completely disempowering.
‘This level of control with the threat of imprisonment if a protest is “deemed to cause annoyance” is oppression. The government know that peaceful disruption and direct action create change. And it is necessary change.
‘To obstruct a road to stop the sales of arms is morally right.
‘To “trespass” and set up a protection camp to protect what little of our habitats we have left, in a planet on fire and in flood due to climate crisis, is morally right.
‘Legality is sadly not a guide to morality and the changes to this Bill would be to make more acts calling for morality and justice, illegal. Is that what you want from the law?
‘Personally, I agree with the recommendation of the APPG report to remove the sections of the Bill which give the police powers to restrict protests.
‘But the measures which criminalise Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, or extend the power of the state to stop, search, surveil and incarcerate vulnerable people would still be present.
‘Much of the Bill is undemocratic, discriminatory and would facilitate acts of immorality.
‘It must be stopped. Kill the Bill.’