Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Additional memorandum submitted by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)

(PR 121)

In the written evidence previously submitted to the Committee, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) stated it would provide further written evidence on the policing of Parliament Square, subsequent to the oral evidence provided to the Committee by Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens. The MPS makes those further submissions below.

The MPS is grateful to the Under Secretary of State for Crime Prevention James Brokenshire MP who wrote to the Service on Friday 11 February making a number of suggestions in relation to the concerns set out below. The MPS will consider the Minister’s letter and respond accordingly.

MPS Views on Policing of Parliament Square

1) It is important that Parliament makes clear to those who wish to exercise their democratic right to protest what is and what is not acceptable in the vicinity around Parliament.

2) The MPS is committed to facilitating lawful protest and the current legislative confusion is unhelpful for all.

3) As an attempt to bring clarity to protest groups and the broader community that uses the Square, the MPS is supportive of the repeal of s132 - 138 SOCPA 2005 and believes all marches and static protests in the area around Parliament should be governed by the Public Order Act 1986 (POA).

4) The MPS believes that the POA should be amended to reflect the MPS Commissioner’s duty to ensure access to Parliament by defining exactly what access is required and allowing conditions to be imposed to allow this to occur.

5) The MPS believes that the POA should be amended to apply to single protestors in the small area around Parliament Square and allow police to impose conditions on the grounds of security, as is currently catered for within SOCPA.

6) The large number of protests that take place around Parliament create a challenge to police resourcing. The MPS suggests the POA be amended to create a requirement to simply notify the police of any planned assembly in the small area around Parliament (without being followed by any authorisation procedure as currently in s134 SOCPA. In this way it would look more like the notification procedure for processions under s11 POA).

Human Rights Act

7) The Human Rights Act 1998 protects the right to protest and any legislative changes must reflect that.

Single Protesters

8) The Bill as drafted makes no provision for single protesters. It is the experience of the police service that the behaviour of those exercising their right to protest in Parliament Square changes in accordance with legislation. Single protestors can have a significant impact in the area.

9) The MPS believes that where security concerns exist it should be possible to address these by the imposition of conditions based upon that security imperative. The size of demonstrations in Parliament Square has been controlled in recent years by the imposition of SOCPA conditions on grounds of security. The security risk presented by the use of tents raises more complicated issues. As AC Owens pointed out in her oral evidence on 29 January 2011 the nature of the protestor groups change and, generally, security concerns have been addressed by protestors engaging with police and allowing searching of tents. They are two people (Mr Brian Haw and Mrs Barbara Tucker) who are currently challenging the legal use of search powers in this regard by the MPS. It is in the spectre of these two cases that the MPS seeks the ability to impose further conditions.

10) The area around Parliament is the most popular protest venue in the UK and therefore does need additional statutory provision, albeit only on narrow identified issues.

Clause 141

11) Clause 141 provides for a constable or authorised officer to direct a person to cease doing (or not start to do) an activity that they have reasonable grounds for believing to be a prohibited activity.

12) This places a great deal of emphasis on the interpretation of the law by individual police officers. The MPS believes the Bill Committee should note that this will be subject to a proportionality test. The MPS has a great deal of experience of trying to achieve the correct balance between allowing the right to protest in Parliament Square and upholding the law.

13) The MPS is concerned that the Bill as currently drafted could be challenged , both on the detail of what behaviours are prohibited and on the proportionality of any decision to enforce in an individual case. This would necessitate the defen ce of the decisions of individual officers in court in order to make the legislation effective .

14) The MPS believes the Bill should make clear to those who wish to exercise their right to protest not only what is and what is not acceptable in the small area around Parliament Square but also why.

Clause 143

15) Clause 143 provides for a constable or authorised officer to seize and retain a prohibited item.

16) As AC Owens stated in oral evidence to the Committee, the MPS has concerns about this extension of the law .

17) Individual citizens have a right to use reasonable force to protect themselves or their property. Police Officers are answerable to the law, operating within a legislative and regulatory framework, with a strong misconduct procedure.

18) The MPS foresee that the use of powers under this section will be subject to legal challenge (e.g. under s59 Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001).

19) Under the current legislative arrangements, people on occasion have been asked to leave Parliament Square by bailiffs, with police officers standing by if necessary to prevent a breach of the peace.

20) Clause 143(6) fails to address the position where the name and address are known but they are refusing or are unable to accept delivery of the property.

Clause 144

21) The Bill provides for a court making an order prohibiting a person from entering or engaging in an activity in Parliament Square.

22) I n the police service’s experience, such measures result in supporters or sympathisers taking the place of the person subject to such an order.

23) It is not clear what the consequences of breaching such a court order would be , or how the matter would be brought back before the court for enforcement.

February 2011