The Public Order Bill hopes to tackle ‘guerrilla’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘disruptive’ protestors, and their tactics, by creating new offences and equipping police with additional powers. Criminal offences will now include:
- Locking-on and going equipped to lock-on –individuals attaching themselves to other objects or buildings to cause serious disruption
- Obstructing major transport works – any behaviour which obstructs or interferes with the construction or maintenance of transport projects
- Interference with key national infrastructure – behaviour which prevents or significantly delays the operation of key infrastructure
- An extension of the current stop and search powers in section one of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, to search for and seize objects that may be used in the commission of a protest-related offence
- Serious disruption prevention orders to target protestors who are repeatedly disrupting the public
- Amending the seniority of assistant commissioners in London, so that they can attach conditions to upcoming protests or prohibit a trespassory assembly.
Many charities have argued that this will limit the ways in which they can individually and lawfully campaign for social change through campaigning and protests. They also argue that the Bill is likely to make it more difficult for charities to challenge the government by limiting their campaigning activities.
Counter arguments suggest that the new laws are not banning peaceful protests, but rather they are a necessary step in response to harmful tactics used by a small minority during protests. The Bill also aims to empower the police whilst they manage such protests.
Whilst this Bill has received some public support, the extensions to police powers may well deter lawful protests. The fear of the new sanctions being imposed, or facing new offences, may prevent or delay charities in challenging government for rightful purposes. We wait to see the impact of these significant changes in the law.
A useful factsheet of the proposals can be found here