Guest contributor Chavonne Brown discusses the implications of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for our democracy.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would result in a fine for causing or intending to cause a serious public disruption. It also expands the definition of monument in such a way that would extraordinarily put someone under penalty of up to a decade in prison for any harm to a monument, while at the same time any statue anywhere in the country would be counted as a monument. This feels more ideologically motivated than driven by any concern for law and order, especially considering the Home Secretary’s personal animus towards protests last year. It is a punitive measure to retroactively criminalise acts which the Home Secretary and the Government did not agree with, not on a legal basis, but a personal one.
Crucially, this Bill, which seeks to change the Police Order Act of 1986, expands its purview to noise thus if anyone at all is “disrupted” by the noise of even a single person in protest, restriction may be placed on them. It is vague on the term “impact” and grants the Home Secretary the power at any time to amend the meaning of the law through statutory instruments. The Bill further changes the wording of the Act from “knowingly” to “ought to have known”. Functionally, any person at a protest who does not hear the restrictions or is not aware of them, would suddenly be breaking the law. This Bill creates a dangerously low threshold for how police may restrict protest and places an inordinate amount of power in the hands of the Home Secretary to define disruption.
This will effectively allow the government to criminalise protest. Furthermore, it will be used as a deterrent to future protests. The Bill is being proposed in response to BLM and XR protests in the previous year. However, in recent weeks, we have seen the Metropolitan Police manhandle people attending a vigil.
It is remarkably disturbing that in a liberal democracy, our government will attempt to so drastically curtail our right to protest. This is merely another example of the government’s continued aversion to criticism and scrutiny that in prior times we would call holding our elected representatives to account, but now seems set to be tantamount to a crime.
The House of Lords must debate this Bill and remove those parts that stand in direct opposition to our freedoms of assembly and public disagreement with those in charge. Ideally, I and many others would think it best that this ideological attack on democracy is not given any room in law whatsoever. Today they say that a protester is a nuisance, tomorrow they will say any dissent to the government’s opinion is a crime.
I understand that this may sound inflammatory, but I fear our democracy will not survive it. Forgive me if my grasp of the legal mechanisms is not as precise as I would hope, but I know that fundamentally what is about to happen is wrong and must be stopped.
Chavonne Brown is a PhD student at Lancaster University. He is passionate about justice reform, social equity, and racial justice. His research focuses on reclaiming and reimagining the history and culture of minority groups.