The opposition parties and legal scholars say the law restricting the right to protest will usher in an ‘alarming extension of state control.’
British MPs on Monday voted for the controversial policing bill that dramatically extends police powers to clamp down on non-violent protests across the United Kingdom.
The ‘police, crime, sentencing and courts bill’ is backed by the House of Commons and allows police to impose a start and finish time of the demonstrations, ban protests by a single person and restrict demonstrations if they are deemed too ‘noisy’.
The bill first came under spotlight after a vigil that was held for Sarah Everard. A serving police officer admitted kidnapping, raping and killing the young woman on March 12, and Metropolitan police were criticised how it policed Everard’s vigil on the next day.
For the critics, the violent police scenes from the vigil have highlighted the importance of keeping the police powers in check.
While the government presents the bill as a testament to commitment “to crack down on crime and build safer communities,” the critics say it signals “an alarming extension of state control.”
The vote in the parliament in favour of the 300-page bill came amid long efforts by the critics, legal experts to prevent it from being passed in the parliament.
In March, more than 700 of the UK’s leading legal academics including 120 professors of law from leading Universities have signed an open letter urging Boris Johnson to ditch the “draconian” restrictions on the freedom to protest.
Widespread “Kill the Bill protests” organised by the law’s critics until the parliament vote on Monday however already have seen a large scale of arrests for offences including reach of the peace, violent disorder, assault on police and breaches of Covid legislation, BBC reported.
Europe’s human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatović said in a letter to MPs and peers that the law would harm freedom of expression.
“I have increasingly had to address instances in which Council of Europe member states have tried to introduce restrictions on peaceful demonstrations, often implicitly driven by the desire of governments to minimise the possibility of dissent,” she wrote to the speakers of the Commons and the Lords.
“I am seriously concerned that, if the above-mentioned provisions were to be adopted, the UK would add to this worrying trend. In the light of this, I call on the members of both houses not to accept provisions of the bill that would add further restrictions on peaceful demonstrations.”
The proposed bill included other updates on the law including changing sentence rules that will lead serious crime offenders to spend more time in jail, allowing judges to consider jailing child murderers for life, and doubling maximum sentences for low-level assaults against emergency service workers.
The bill would allow closer monitoring of terrorism offenders who were released from prison while on sexual offences, while it would hold adults in a position of trust who involved in sexual offences into account in a more effective way, the government says.
But for the protesters, the most controversial part remains the limits regarding the protests. The individuals who breach the law now can be arrested, prosecuted, and face jail time of up to 10 years for causing “serious annoyance or inconvenience” as the bill increases penalties for those who defy conditions.
Amnesty International in the UK said, the bill would lead to discrimination of minoritised groups at higher levels.
“This could mean protests are banned and black people and other racialised minorities face more discrimination and further inequality,” the organisation said.