Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – Johnson’s new assault on democracy

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A vigil held at Clapham Common, held in memory of Sarah Everand and other victims of violence against women resulted in a brutal police crackdown which saw police pinning women to the ground. The harsh repression of the peaceful and socially distanced protest led to criticism  and condemnation from politicians from across the political spectrum, once again reopening the debate on police brutality.

But rather than showing compassion for the victims of sexual violence and harassment or denouncing the heavy handed response, Priti Patel and her Conservative peers have doubled down, attempting to introduce a new bill targeting protests. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is currently being debated in parliament, with the potential for sweeping reform to our rights.

At present, the Police already have extensive powers to quell protest, being able to do so when they believe that it may result in public disorder, damage to property or disruption to the community if they want to put restrictions on a protest. They also need to inform protesters  to move on, before it can be said they’ve broken the law. This already provides individual officers with extensive authority to use their powers to break up protests.

The home office would be able to impose a start and finish time and set noise limits on all protests. Protestors would also need to obtain permits in advance, and police could ban gatherings that don’t “sufficiently” meet conditions, to prevent “public disorder”, even when these protests are completely peaceful and do not break other laws. This creates a new reality that enables the Home Office an unprecedented amount of power to crack down on protests without reason or broken laws.

This new law criminalises “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”, designed to stop people occupying public spaces. By barring the right to protest in public areas, the UK would join a cabal of six illiberal countries where protests can be “legally restricted”, joining Egypt, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and Myanmar. In addition to this, it sets the maximum sentence for damaging statues at 10 years – a harsher sentence than many rape cases. This shows a clear miscarriage of justice which fails to protect those in need.

The right to protest is a fundamental human right, enshrined by the UN as well as European and British courts. Whilst the home office claims that this new bill is compatible with these human rights, should Priti Patel, who has been repeatedly criticized for bullying and harassment, be the sole authority on this matter? By contrast, shadow justice secretary David Lammy has labelled the proposed measures “poorly thought out” and says they “impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest”.

This once again illustrates the misguided priorities set out by a disconnected and callous Tory government set on stifling free speech and fundamental human rights. As a nation we can do better, we deserve better and we will do better. As a country dedicated to protecting our values, I am sure that there will be extensive resistance to these dictatorial movements and we will fight to maintain our democracy.

So what can we do to protect our democracy and our human rights? Firstly we can make our voices heard, this bill, designed to silence us, will only make us louder. Already protests have begun as people recognise the inherent danger that this can pose to our democratic institutions. Calls to #KillTheBill have already sprung up on social media to start to raise awareness for this key issue. You can write to your MP and let them know your concerns with this issue. It’s important to note that this bill has not yet passed into law and we can still block it. To those who are prepared for more extensive action, protests are occurring across the country – including at 2pm on Sunday 21st, College Green, Bristol.

But perhaps most importantly you can raise awareness. Together we can step the slide into authoritarianism, together we can defend democracy and together we can build the Britain we want to live in.