Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSCB) is a proposed Act of the United Kingdom Parliament sponsored by the Home Office and Secretary of State for the Home Department Priti Patel. The PCSCB proposes to "overhaul" police, criminal justice, and sentencing legislation, and encompasses disparate areas of existing law including knife crime, protests, crimes against children, and sentencing limits.
The jurisdiction of the controversial Bill, which passed its second reading on 16 March 2021 in the House of Commons by 359 votes to 263, applies to England and Wales. And in Scotland five days earlier, Holyrood voted to pass the equally controversial Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill by 82 votes to 32.
Protest and public assembly
|Jonathan Pie on the Right to Protest|
Part 3 of the PCSCB deals with protests and public assembly and aims to widen the range of conditions the police can impose on static protests, including how much noise is acceptable. Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said the Act 'updates' the Public Order Act and drew a distinction between peaceful protest and "activities which inhibit the lives of people." Robert Buckland, Secretary of State for Justice, said regarding the Bill and protests "We’ve got to think about the sometimes huge inconvenience caused to other people going about their lawful business..."
The pressure group Liberty claimed the Bill "threatens protest" and human rights lawyer Adam Wagner highlighted how the proposals would criminalise "serious annoyance". Broadcaster and writer Kenan Malik warned the Bill reduced the right to protest to "whispering in the corner".
When the PCSCB was first published, the opposition, the Labour Party, said it would "scrutinise" the Bill to ensure it puts victims of crime first. By 14 March 2021, the party had decided to vote against the Bill. In the subsequent second reading of the Bill, this change of position was explained and given context by opposition MP Clive Lewis citing the death of Sarah Everard and the vigil held following her death as key factors.
The Bill was welcomed by the Police Federation. In contrast with the Police Federation, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners registered their disagreement with the Bill. On the topic of proposed legally-binding restrictions on protests, Chair Paddy Tipping stated “I think politicians would be wise to leave decisions to the responsible people … they’ve got to leave people to make local decisions in local circumstances.”
Priti Patel's Policing Bill, currently being forced through Parliament, aims to suppress dissent. It gives the police arbitrary powers to shut down any protest, based on deliberately woolly definitions of "noise", "impact", and "unease".
It radically increases the potential prison sentences involved, up to 10 years for causing "serious annoyance". And one of its key aims is to clamp down on climate activism - effectively turning the police into agents of repression for the suicidal fossil fuel status quo.
It's a recipe for a police state, that belongs on the statute books of authoritarian regimes, like China or Belarus. There is widespread opposition to it on many fronts, but not amongst the people who have the power to actually stop it - Tory MPs and Peers. Which is strange, as many of them spend their time denouncing repressive dictatorships, and defending the superior liberties of the West.
The Lords are our last defence against dictatorship taking hold.
The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers condemns the PCSCB which passed its second reading on 16 March 2021. We are gravely concerned that this Bill contains multiple threats to the right to peaceful protest, lacks adequate measures to protect women, will serve to criminalise communities and is a bonfire of our basic civil liberties.
We further note that despite its gravity, the PCSCB has been rushed through by the Government at an alarming and opportunistic rate; giving less than a week between its publication and second reading. This is a derisory timescale, and has meant that the general public, affected communities MPs and their staff, have been obstructed and denied the opportunity to fully understand what the devastating impact of this Bill will be. The Bill passed with an exclusively Tory vote of 359 votes for and a cross party vote of 263 against, with Labour MPs being told to vote against it.
This Bill should be seen as a continuation of the slide to authoritarianism that this country has seen in recent times at the hands of a Tory government. This attack on our basic civil liberties should be seen in the same context as the Trade Union Act 2016, the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill (the ‘Spycops Bill’) and the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill.
- Further extend already draconian police powers, giving them new powers against static protests, granting the ability to impose allocated times and where they can be held, and enforce maximum noise limits (amongst other measures);
- Prevent protests outside Parliament;
- Expand powers to shut down peaceful demonstrations;
- Introduce new offences for protesters, including on the basis of causing “serious annoyance”;
- Increase penalties and lower the thresholds for breaching police conditions on protests;
- Reduce public access to the countryside by creating a trespass offence, which will serve to criminalise the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities.
It is also worth noting that the Ministry of Justice, the courts and the wider justice system have been allocated no extra funding from the Treasury in its recent Budget to accommodate the demands of the PCSCB.
As well as serving to criminalise communities, the implications and scope of this Bill are huge for any individuals calling for economic, environmental and social change, and further criminalises the right to challenge existing power structures.
We urge the government to scrap the above provisions. We urge the Labour Party to do more to oppose the Bill and continue to stand against it. We call on our members, comrades, concerned activists and targeted communities to publicly condemn the PCSCB. The Haldane Society stands in solidarity with the individuals, groups and MPs who have publicly opposed the Bill, as well as those most affected by it.
On 18 March 2021, Zarah Sultana tweeted:
- "The Tories wanted to rush the Police Crackdown Bill through Parliament, but they didn't expect the opposition.
- "Sisters Uncut showed that we wouldn't accept it without a fight.
- "And now? The Bill has been delayed.
- "There's power in the streets. Let's mobilise that to #KillTheBill."
|Document:Did POLICE turn Bristol ‘Kill the Bill’ protest into a riot?||blog post||22 March 2021||Mike Sivier||It is impossible to condemn the people for the Bristol ‘Kill the Bill’ riot when we know it is entirely possible that it was engineered by Priti Patel and the police.|
- "Protest march due to take place in Cardiff on Saturday afternoon"
- "Hate Crime Bill passed"
- "How Scotland’s Hate Crime Bill ignited a freedom of speech row"
- "Hate Crime Bill: Controversial bill passes Holyrood by 82 votes to 32"
- "PCSC Bill passage"
- "POLICING BILL THREATENS PROTEST RIGHTS"
- "Tweet by Adam Wagner"
- "If you thought the right to protest was inalienable, then think again"
- "New protest laws ‘go too far’ and are not needed, police commissioners say"
- "Digital Action: Tell Lords to protect our freedoms by rejecting the most sinister parts of the policing bill"
- "Condemnation of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill"
- "And now? The Bill has been delayed"