The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) are calling for evidence on a number of key issues in the increasingly infamous Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. There are many aspects to this bill which give cause for concern, including the apparent targeting of Roma and Traveller communities; measures to give authorities more access to private electronic data; and changes to sentencing, including the risible and offensive hike in the maximum sentence for damaging a public statue or monument.
In this article, we are concentrating on the ratcheting up of police powers to deal with public order and wider offences, increased sentences for breaching conditions imposed on assemblies and processions by the police and the scope for the imposition of those conditions to be abused by those in power. These measures have significant implications for the right to protest, which is itself an aspect of the rights to free speech and free assembly.
If you are concerned, as we are, for the implications for our rights to manifest our dissent, en masse or individually in public, then please submit an online response to let the committee know how you feel. We hope that by giving you some background information, you will feel able to submit a contribution which could in turn help ensure that vitally important amendments are made to the bill and passed by parliament. The prospect of stopping the bill altogether looks remote. The government’s 80 seat majority means it can pretty well do as it likes, BUT there are concerns about its scope from right across the house. The bill’s progress to the committee stage has been delayed presumably partly as a consequence of public outrage, but also to allow further legislative scrutiny by the JCHR. The deadline for our submissions is now Friday 14 May.
The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental human right. If the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (which recently passed its second reading) becomes law, Patel and the police will be able to decide that a procession or assembly would give rise to the entirely undefined concept of ‘serious unease’ and then pronounce it unlawful, criminalising the participants. Furthermore, Patel will be able to use statutory instruments to add further provisions to the bill without any recourse to parliament at all.
You will have seen the footage of ‘Kill the Bill’ protests in Bristol and London which degenerated into violence . in the circumstamces, following as they did the appalling scenes in Clapham at the Sarah Everard vigil, we can be forgiven for wondering whether there was any element of incitement carried out by those hellbent on ensuring the PCSC bill becomes law. The protests were also, of course, an opportunity for those who enjoy a fight, especially after a year of the pandemic, and feelings of anger and frustration at a whole range of issues are running high. We may never know. In any event, violence cannot be condoned. The actions of a few do not, however, justify the curtailing of freedoms for the many.
We have a government that bypasses parliament, short circuits proper procedure, avoids scrutiny at every opportunity and has no scruple about breaking laws, reneging on promises or just plain lying. It has become almost arrogant, reckless in its disregard for truth and propriety, abusing the majority gifted it by a minority of the electorate. Covid-19 has kept protest at bay and provided a smokescreen for the ruling politicians’ activities and for the disastrous impact of their catastrophic Brexit deal. They have been behaving like the authoritarian kleptocrats that they are without having had to go to full dictator mode…but this bill makes a move to that level of control much easier and, maybe, more likely. So, the JCHR are asking us:
*European Court of Human Rights
Are the proposed changes to the law governing public assemblies, processions and one-person protests necessary to protect those adversely affected by such activities? Do the proposals in Part 3 of the Bill adequately protect the right to peaceful assembly (Article 11 ECHR*) and the right to free expression (Article 10 ECHR)?
Some of you will have been on the huge – and hugely enjoyable – marches against Brexit and for a People’s Vote. Peaceful, positive and requiring minimal policing, it is unthinkable that such protests may never be repeated on Patel’s watch… and Lord knows, we have enough cause to protest. Climate, inequality, and corruption are just three issues on which we may feel sufficiently strongly to want to get out and make those feelings known, especially when the main stream media will not give us a voice.
So, please, contribute to the scrutiny of this dangerous bill and its threats to our already beleaguered democracy. Follow this link, and it will guide you through the process. please get as many of your friends and family to do the same. It’ll be almost as rewarding a feeling as marching shoulder to shoulder with kindred spirits.
Information on the JCHR:
The JCHR consists of twelve members, appointed from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, to examine matters relating to human rights within the United Kingdom, as well as scrutinising every Government Bill for its compatibility with human rights. [Click on the name for information on their voting record] It is chaired by Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham. The other members are – for the Conservatives: Lord Brabazon of Tara; Fiona Bruce MP for Congleton; Pauline Latham, MP for Mid Derbyshire; Lord Henley; Dean Russell MP for Watford; for Labour: Karen Buck MP for Westminster North; Lord Dubs; Baroness Massey; for the Liberal Democrats: Baroness Ludford; Crossbench: Lord Singh.