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An end to the right to peaceful protest?

Mike McCartney

11th May 2022

A new bill announced in the Queen's Speech raises questions about rights protection

According to the Anadolu Agency (Turkey)

“Her Majesty’s Government will protect the integrity of the United Kingdom’s borders and ensure the safety of its people. My Ministers will take action to prevent dangerous and illegal Channel crossings and tackle the criminal gangs who profit from facilitating them. Legislation will be introduced to ensure the police have the powers to make the streets safer,” Prince Charles, who delivered the speech in place of his mother Queen Elizabeth II, said.

“Her Majesty’s Government will ensure the constitution is defended. Her Majesty’s Ministers will restore the balance of power between the legislature and the courts by introducing a Bill of Rights. Legislation will prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts that undermine community cohesion,” he added.

The bill will make it a criminal offence for protesters to peacefully "lock on" to public infrastructure, such as buildings, transport, and roads, in a bid to raise awareness on public issues. Doing so will carry a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Interference with key infrastructures such as airports and railways will warrant a 12-month prison sentence as well as an unlimited fine.

The tactic has been widely used by climate protesters in recent months. Environmental activists from Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion groups had occupied main highways and bridges across the capital London to protest the government’s climate policies. Individual protesters had gone as far as chaining themselves on buildings and public transport.

Insulate Britain is a campaign group calling on the UK government to put in place policy and funding for a national home insulation program, while Extinction Rebellion protesters are demonstrating against the government’s response to climate change and want the government to immediately end all new fossil fuel investments." Source here.

It is well known that despite steps in the right direction as a result of the introduction of the European Convention on Human Rights through the passage of the Human Rights Act, rights are still not adequately protected since they lack entrenchment in our political system. That civil liberties receive little protection was illustrated in full Technicolor by Blair’s fourfold extension of detention without trial. ASBOs created a criminal class of innocent civilians. The rise of stop and search, database creep, CCTV proliferation and the kettling (is a police tactic for the management of large crowds) of protestors at the G20 and tuition fees protests have made civil liberties a much higher profile issue in recent years. Increased demands for codification mirror that, but the proposals by the current government seem to be going in the opposite direction, and are sure to face stern resistance in the upper chamber.

For an excellent backgrounder on rights protection, albeit a little bit out of date, see the Democratic Audit's page here.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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