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The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and its Impact on the Rights to Protest

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

14th November 2023

The right to protest can be seen to be a fundamental right indicative of a fully functioning democracy. However, of late there have been multiple instances where these such protests have majorly disrupted the key functions of society such as transport networks for instance, causing widespread disturbance. Thus, the right to protest and the right for society to function undisturbed must be balanced, so that ordinary citizens can go about their lives whilst others may protest their cause. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 has brought in some measures to try and address such concerns, however has this been too heavy handed?

Originally criticised by the House of Lords for being undemocratic with concessions having to be made so that it could be passed it has addressed such things as the noise created from protests, extended provisions in relation to obstruction to highways and also obstruction to key services.

Noise restrictions under the act

As well as creating a statutory offence of public nuisance in place of the common law offence as recommended by the Law Commission, new provisions have also been created amending the Public Order Act 1986.

There are new provisions under the act whereby the police can intervene if the noise created by any such protest is deemed to have a relevant impact on people or cause disruption to the activities of an organisation in the area. If this is the case, police will be able to impose conditions but not outright ban protests from taking place. This will also depend on a number of relevant factors such as location, duration, sensitivity of anybody potentially impacted e.g., if near to a school or medical facility, and will be different on a case-by-case basis.

Wilful obstruction of a highway

This penalty for this offence has been increased from a £1000 fine to an unlimited fine and/or six months' imprisonment. It also extends this offence so that it can be committed even when the highway has been closed by the police or relevant authority. This could b seen to be a backwards step after the House of Lords decision in DPP v Jones appeared to endorse the rights of protesters to peacefully assemble on a highway.

Obstructing key services

Also introduced to update the Public Order Act 1986 this ensures that access to key services is maintained. It makes it an offence to interrupt the supply of a time sensitive product to consumers, or halt access to key supplies, communication, places of worship, transport networks, education or health services.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Why is the right to protest considered fundamental in a democracy, and how does it relate to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022?
  2. What criticisms did the House of Lords have about the Act, and how were they addressed?
  3. Explain the new provisions for noise restrictions during protests and the police's intervention criteria.
  4. Describe the changes in penalties for wilful obstruction of a highway under the Act.
  5. How does the Act address the obstruction of key services, and what areas are considered key services?

Further Discussion

  • How can the interests of protestors and the public’s right to not be disturbed ever be reconciled?
  • Do you think that the powers of the police should be extended or constricted?

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

Gemma is an experienced Law teacher and examiner.

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