Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum by the Countryside Alliance (Ev 28)

PRIOR NOTIFICATION

  I can see the arguments in favour of it being a requirement to notify the police of any assembly just to enable the police to prepare, allocate resources, and make an assessment of the appropriate levels of policing and the likelihood of public order issues, especially where a counter demonstration may be likely in the same vicinity. However, this should be a "where possible" provision and not a requirement, the absence of which would render an assembly illegal. I am unaware that the absence of this requirement for assemblies elsewhere in the country has proved problematic and why Parliament and its environs should be subject to a different regime. It is of course possible the police want notification to be compulsory UK-wide which must be undesirable and seems incompatible with free speech and freedom of assembly. I would refer you to the memorandum which I submitted to the Committee and the case of Bukta and Others v Hungary (2007) in which the European Court of Human Rights found that:

    "in special circumstances when an immediate response, in the form of a demonstration, to a political event might be justified, a decision to disband the ensuing, peaceful assembly solely because of the absence of the requisite prior notice, without any illegal conduct by the participants, amounts to a disproportionate restriction on freedom of peaceful assembly".

NOISE

  I am afraid I am not an expert on the law here. However, if noise is the primary concern surely a possible solution would in addition to the police powers to impose restrictions under the POA on place and duration, for the reasons given in that Act, but also to specify the duration of noise above a certain volume by mechanical device in a given place. It should however be noted that the existing byelaws already forbid the use of loudspeakers on Parliament Square Gardens and there is only a narrow area of pavement, for which I believe Westminster Council is responsible, where such noise could be made without permission. I would also question whether a restriction on noise etc using the existing POA provisions when imposed on a whole assembly would be disproportionate when enforced against a single person breaking that restriction when part of a bigger group. It would be a concern if this review, in relation to Parliament Square, were to result in further UK-wide restrictions. I am unaware of this being a pressing problem UK wide but can see that due to the unique status of Parliament the issue of a continuous noise problem might be a problem, as opposed to a short term disruption on a given day.

NOISE—IMPOSING CONDITIONS BASED ON SERIOUS DISRUPTION

  In evidence to the Joint Committee the police stated that "serious disruption" sets a high threshold for the level of noise that is necessary before they have power to intervene. They seem to have answered their own point. If the disruption is not "serious" why stop it? I wonder if they had particular case law in mind? Moreover the ordinary powers of arrest and Common Law breach of the peace, not to mention causing alarm or distress and a host of other powers are more than sufficient. My understanding of Sessional Orders was that it does not give the police additional powers but is an instruction to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in respect of Parliament. It is principally enforced by other legislation and Common Law powers of arrest. If protestors are seriously preventing access to parliament then one would suspect that they would be breaking a whole host of other laws, such as blocking the highway, breach of the peace etc. I believe there are ample laws in place which allow the police to act and that they have sufficient powers to do so. Again I do not see why Parliament and its environs represents some special case and would object to any tightening up of the law throughout the UK.

LONE DEMONSTRATORS

  The only way a lone demonstrator might be a policing issue could be the continuous use of a megaphone and noise. Clearly if he was abusive, threatening etc he could be arrested under existing Statute and Common law and the police have the power to take action. It seems fundamentally wrong for the police to have powers in respect of an individual beyond those existing where his actions become unlawful. Noise may be an issue but otherwise I can see no need for the police to have additional powers. In respect of Parliament Square there are, as I have already mentioned, existing laws which make it virtually impossible to demonstrate lawfully—see my memorandum.

POWERS OF ARREST AND CONFISCATION

  Unless some offence can be identified you cannot take away people's possessions prior to arrest. Assuming the protestor was peaceful and lawful then the police should have no right to intervene. If the law is changed in respect of extreme noise then they could arrest and following arrest remove equipment. I fail to see what the police are driving at. In theory the Countryside Alliance's loudspeaker system was illegal on 15 Sept 2004, as we did not have the written consent of the London Mayor under the byelaws. The last sentance is nonsensical. The police have all the powers necessary to "end serious disturbance pending court proceedings" against those duly arrested and charged. I suspect he is talking about noise which would only be an issue on certain narrow strips of pavement. If the law was modified to deal specifically with noise in Parliament Square the powers of arrest etc would apply in the usual way. Once again it would be a concern if such powers were extended UK wide.

PUBLIC SAFETY

  Section 14 does allow a senior police officer to impose conditions on a public assembly if he reasonably believes the assembly may result in:

    1.  Serious public disorder.

    2.  Serious damage to property.

    3.  Serious disruption to the life of the community.

    4.  Or, that the purpose is to coerce by intimidation.

  However, conditions may only relate to:

    Place.

    Duration.

    Number of persons who may assemble.

  Failure to comply with these provisions knowingly and within one's control is a criminal offence. It is interesting that Parliament uses the word "serious". I assume it was deliberate to prevent restrictions on protest where any disruption etc was not serious and to prevent the police using their powers to restrict free speech etc.

  There are also Common Law powers of arrest for breach of the peace etc. I see no reason why the police cannot act under the existing law. The POA 1986 is here: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1986/pdf/ukpga_19860064_en.pdf

June 2008





 
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