Memorandum submitted by Angie Zelter
1. The current legislative measures which
restrict protest or peaceful assembly (such as SOCPA 2005 and
the Public Order Act 1986) are not necessary and proportionate
to the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
In fact they severely limit our rights to freedom of expression
and peaceful assembly. The police and state have more than adequate
measures to arrest and detain people for breaches of the peace
and many other public order offences without adding these extra
Peaceful protest should be facilitated by the
State who need to enact a Bill of Rights enshrining our rights
to peaceful protest even when it might disrupt (in a nonviolent
manner) work or proceedings against which the protest has organised
and even where free speech might "offend".
Civil society need to be given these rights
in order to bring to public and government attention matters that
they are not responding adequately too and to provide a social
feedback mechanism that in itself can do much to relieve societal
The limits to be placed on the right to protest
should be those limits that are on any kind of behaviour and should
be covered by the normal rules of society and legislation, ie
those that inhibit violent physical acts. This is important because
all protest should be nonviolent and also because protest should
be encouraged in order to provide a focal point for alternative
voices and strategies for exploring ways out of the many complex
and serious problems of a world entering climate chaos, wars,
poverty and environmental collapse.
There should be no specific limitations placed
on the ability of any groups to protest. But the current limitations
against racism, sexism and violence should be respected more widely
and the police should arrest and encourage the prosecution of
any group threatening violence.
Protest, however uncomfortable to certain individuals
and groups, is an important social mechanism for conflict resolution
processes, the first step of which is often protest but which
can then lead on to dialogue and resolution.
The right to protest should not be more strictly
curtailed in relation to certain geographical areas. It is especially
important that the more powerful parts of society and especially
the sites of important decision-making like Parliament, Corporate
HQs and AGMs, Military Bases, Embassies, Prisons and Police Stations
be open to protest, as this is where many abuses of power can
The Government proposes to repeal sections 132-8
SOCPA dealing with protest around Parliament and invites Parliament
to consider whether additional provision is needed to ensure that
Parliament's work is not disrupted by protests in Parliament Square.
I think this is not an appropriate way to phrase this as it may
well be appropriate for civil society to be able to disrupt the
work of Parliament in certain specific circumstances, when for
instance it might be engaged in breaking international law (like
its decision to go to war in Iraq or to renew its nuclear weapons
system). Obviously, such disruption should not be easy nor encouraged.
However, if society is so disturbed at the workings of Parliament
that and to object vociferously to what they consider wrong-doing,
then society at large needs to accept this as a necessary part
of a democratic system and to protect this right.
I can think of no circumstances where it would
it be permissible for the State to take pre-emptive action which
curtailed protests as long as those protests were to be nonviolent
and were not encouraging violence or abuses of any of the Universal
Human Rights to which all civilised societies have signed up to.
2. The existing common law and legislative police
powers (such as the common law power to prevent a breach of the
peace, stop and search under the Terrorism Act 2000 and the use
of force) are not evenly operated in practice. They are used in
a discriminatory and abusive manner and are mainly directed against
black or moslem minorities.
Existing police powers are already too wide
and fewer are required. The police need to act and be seen to
act equally and in a non-partisan manner against all criminals
not just the poor and disadvantaged.
Counter-terrorism powers are not appropriately
used in the policing of protests. There have been some ridiculous
examples of infringements of rights to protest whereby police
have invoked counter-terrorism when dealing with nonviolent protesters
who are attempting to act in solidarity with groups whose human
rights are being abusedeg, Palestinian or Kurdish rights.
Do existing police powers pay sufficient regard
to human rights. No.
Are there positive examples of good practice
in the policing of protests (whether in the UK or in other countries).
Yes. The operations of Strathclyde Police in the policing of the
protests at Faslane, Scotland during the Faslane 365 year of blockades
(October 2006 to October 2008) was an example of good policing.
3. The competing interests of public order
and the right to protest can and must be reconciled.
Any actions during protests that encourage racism
or violence of any kind can and should be justifiably criminalised.
Existing criminal law and practice does not
pay sufficient regard to human rights. It is not in accordance
with human rights for students at Nottingham University for instance,
to be picked up and questioned for six days because the downloaded
information from internet terrorist sites in order to write their
MA Thesis on Islamic Extremism and International Terrorist Networks
(14 May to 20 May 2008).
Complaints about the handling of protests (including
police action during protests) are not adequately addressed as
there is no process, independent of the police or state, who deals
with such complaints.
Internal complaints never get far as I can testify
from my own experience.
There is obviously a difficult balance to be
struck between the rights of protesters and other competing interests
(such as the rights of others or the prevention of disorder or
crime. But there are already laws for breach of the peace and
against assault and violence, and these are sufficient. If murder
is outlawed why are laws against mass murder needed? SOCPA and
the Anti-Terrorism Laws should be repealed and we should rely
upon natural justice to deal with the problemsthat and
a reform of the UK's own human rights record, ie. A real ethical
foreign policy where we stop arming human rights abusers, stop
supporting repressive regimes and start behaving in a globally