Lords can stop police getting pre-emptive protest ban rights, Green peer says
Controversial proposed powers for police to pre-emptively ban protests believed likely to cause “serious disruption” could be killed in the House of Lords if Labour whips its benches to vote against them, the Green peer Jenny Jones has said.
The powers, described as “a blank cheque to shut down dissent”, were introduced by the government this month in late amendments to a public order bill that already includes a series of anti-protest measures.
According to the civil rights group Liberty, the proposals give police expansive powers to restrict protests they believe will cause “more than minor” impacts on everyday activities. They also give senior officers the power to treat several protests as one demonstration, allowing them to impose conditions on all of them collectively.
No 10 has said the changes would make clear that police did not need “to wait for disruption to take place” before shutting protests down. The amendments emerged amid politicians’ frustration at seeing police protecting Just Stop Oil protesters on slow marches on London’s busiest roads.
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On Monday, the bill reaches report stage in the Lords. If peers vote the amendments down, they cannot be revived in the Commons.
Lady Jones said: “The Lords have a rare opportunity to stop the draconian shift towards pre-crime. Under these proposals, the police will be able to ban protests that they think might cause more than minor disruption.
“A government that bans strikes, introduces voter suppression and stops effective protest is destroying democracy from within. Our big hope is that the Labour peers will pull out all the stops and join with the rest of us who aim to stop pre-crime and these other draconian proposals from becoming law.
“The practicalities of enforcing pre-crime are fraught with problems for the police. For example, the million-strong protest against the Iraq war caused serious disruption, but there has never been a law that allows the police to ban such a gathering.
“The police might have to guess at the numbers attending a demonstration and what the protesters might, or might not, do. Pre-crime laws give the police a huge discretionary power to decide what is a good or a bad protest. It puts the police in the position of making political choices with government ministers applying pressure to ban protests that are embarrassing to them.”
The Liberal Democrats said they would be fighting the amendments “tooth and nail”. The party’s home affairs spokesperson, Brian Paddick, said: “The biggest protesting groups, such as Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, are no longer protesting in the way they have always done as so many of them are now in prison.
“Anyone who attempts to get on to a motorway to stop traffic can already be immediately arrested for public nuisance and sentenced up to 10 years in prison. Indeed, people already have been.
“This just goes to show how incredibly unnecessary this bill is, let alone the new amendments the government is desperate to push.”
The Labour party did not respond to a request for comment. Its leader, Keir Starmer, has accused the prime minister of chasing headlines with the proposals. Shami Chakrabarti, the former director of Liberty who now sits with Labour in the Lords, previously said the entire bill rested on its definition of “serious disruption”.
“If you set the bar too low, you are really giving the police a blank cheque to shut down dissent before it has even happened,” she said.