Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Written evidence submitted by Zoe Everett . ( PCSC B 03 )

Introduction

  I am a young professional based in Leeds, my family have been strongly involved in politics for generations which has given me an awareness of the importance of direct and communal action. I have been a member and supporter of ACORN for several years.

Reason for submitting evidence

  As someone who is involved in direct action and organisation, the protest and trespass portions of this bill cause me concern because I feel they will impinge upon my civil rights and ability to organise against organisations with more power than I hold as an individual. This will severely impact the nature of British society, which has a strong history of supporting the voice of the people. To pass this law would be against core British values and be an insult to the long history of democracy in this country.

Infringement of our right to protest

Are the proposed changes to the law governing public assemblies, processions and one-person protests necessary to protect those adversely affected by such activities? Do the proposals in Part 3 of the Bill adequately protect the right to peaceful assembly (Article 11 ECHR) and the right to free expression (Article 10 ECHR)?

Any peaceful assembly of members of the public, be they large-scale political demonstrations and marches, one-person protests, or local campaign actions by community organisations, are likely to be considered disruptive by those who are the intended object of the protest, be they state actors, private businesses and other organisations, or private individuals. Currently lawful protest activities that target private companies (such as peacefully protesting outside a business) could be criminalised by this Bill. Article 11 of the ECHR outlines the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as a fundamental human right, and this is a serious infringement of that. The police and the British state already has significant - and overbearing - power over protest. Police have the power to impose conditions on all kinds of protest; this Bill seeks to expand these powers further while increasing the criminal sanctions for an organiser who fails to entirely comply with the conditions imposed on them by increasing the potential imprisonment period from 3 months up to 11. Additionally the Bill also increases the fine that can be imposed on organisers and attendees. This will not only significantly inhibit our democratic right to protest, but risks needlessly pushing people into the criminal justice system.

Furthermore, even if the object of the protest themselves are not put at serious unease by noise and other disruption from peaceful assembly, the proposed Bill effectively outlaws peaceful assembly that is deemed to be disruptive to bystanders. These parts of the proposed Bill (Clauses 54 to 56, and Clause 60) effectively strip citizens of their right to lawful peaceful assembly in predominantly residential areas, in which large numbers of people in their homes may argue that they have been disturbed by noise from protestors. The same is true of commercial locations, for example if a business believes that their operation has been financially damaged by loud protestors being in the vicinity of their shopfront, which may be seen to put off potential customers. It is really important to allow for small nuisance as a method of protest in UK law because this can often be a peaceful method to highlight disagreement and injustice within and under the law. As a renter I have often had experiences with Landlords who have failed to follow UK law when maintaining their properties, but that the conventional channels of complaint do not have time to address.

The proposed changes are not necessary to protect those adversely affected by peaceful protest, as under current law they are already always protected from serious harm or violence. Overall, this Bill would seriously restrict the right to protest by limiting the areas protests may happen in, increasing criminal penalties surrounding protest, and applying arbitrary and subjective terms such as ‘annoyance’ that would allow protests that meet these vague criteria to be banned. This is in contradiction with the fact that under human rights law, governments are not to place unnecessary obstacles in the way of people wishing to protest, as well as a positive obligation to facilitate protest. As the Court of Appeal has clearly stated - protest "becomes effectively worthless if the protestor’s choice of ‘when and where’ to protest is not respected as far as possible."

Trespass

Are the new powers in Part 4 of the Bill targeting unauthorised encampments justified by the need to protect the rights of landowners and other users of the land?

· Do they contain adequate safeguards against abuse?

· Do these proposals adequately respect the rights of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities?

· Are they discriminatory?

 

The powers in Part 4 of the Bill targeting unauthorised encampments are not justified by the need to protect the rights of landowners or other users of the land. The rights of landowners are already ‘protected’ beyond any reasonable doubt, often at the expense of others whose rights actually need protecting; we have seen this explicitly throughout the Covid crisis as GRT communities have faced eviction from pitches with no protection. Additionally, research from Friends, Families and Travellers has shown that 75% of police responses to the 2018 consultation on unauthorised encampments indicated that they did not need or want more powers in this area. On top of this, 84% of police forces did not support the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments and 65% said lack of site provision was the real problem. Furthermore, the National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners have stated that criminalisation of trespass would likely breach the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. The proposals fail to acknowledge that there is a distinct lack of provision for GRT communities, instead focusing on authoritarian criminalisation tactics that will serve only to harm an already marginalised community.

The criminalisation of trespass is a further entrenchment of the already substantial rights of landowners at the expense of the way of life of GRT communities, and represents a likely further restriction to our right to roam. 92% of land in England alone is already off limits to the general public - this division being deepened further with criminality is unconscionable and is at odds with the Government’s commitment to "[open] up the natural world," as stated in its 25 year Environmental Plan. Such a plan would have a deep impact on people’s feeling of ownership and patriotism towards the British landscape. We should all feel that this country is ours so that we may subsequently feel that it is important to look after the beautiful land we live in.

The vague phrasing of the proposals insures that it is open to abuse and it may be possible for interest groups who do not have the best interest of the UK at heart to manipulate this bill and have a negative impact upon the UK. It is not safe to pass a bill without adequate safeguarding against external influence.

16 th May 2021.

 

Prepared 19th May 2021