Representatives of the coalition of campaign groups held another demonstration outside Leamington Town Hall on Monday July 5 to protest against the Government’s proposed Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The bill was passed at third reading in Parliament the same day by 365 votes to 265.
As part of a nationwide wave of protests against the bill, this protest (which was socially distanced and attendees wore masks) was organised by a coalition of Leamington Black Lives Matter, Warwickshire NEU, Socialist Appeal, Keep Our NHS Public, Justice for Palestinians, Quakers, youth climate strikers, and others. This follows a protest organised in May in the Pump Room Gardens where over 100 local people came to show their support.
The bill will allow police chiefs to put more conditions on static protests and has caused much division in opinion. So we got the views of two people on opposing sides to explain why they are for and against it.
FOR THE BILL
Jeremy Wright, MP for Kenilworth and Southam
Although much of the focus of attention on this Bill has been on provisions relating to organised protests, this Bill covers a large number of subjects, including tougher sentences for those who assault emergency workers and for those who commit serious violent and sexual offences. It provides for changes in court processes and evidence, cautions, road traffic offences, greater protection for children and many other things. It extends to 176 clauses, of which only seven cover the issues of public order, and I think there has been some misunderstanding about the effect of those clauses.
The Bill does not prevent peaceful protest but it does extend the restrictions police officers can impose upon it, including to allow similar restrictions to be imposed on assemblies to those that can already be imposed on processions. It is also important to be clear that, in part, the Bill translates a common law offence of public nuisance into statute, in accordance with the recommendations of the Law Commission, a body independent of Government.
Also in accordance with the recommendations of the Law Commission, the Bill actually makes a conviction for causing a public nuisance harder to obtain than is currently the case, requiring intention or recklessness on the part of the defendant rather than negligence which will suffice currently. Some ask whether a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment is appropriate for the statutory offence proposed, but it is necessary to take into account that the offence encompasses the causing of death or injury as well as just serious annoyance, so sentencing powers need to be broad enough to deal with offending at the serious end of the spectrum as well as the more trivial. It is also worth taking account of the fact that the sentence available to courts considering the current common law offence is unlimited.
This Bill does not contain the assault on our liberties some have suggested, and contains much to welcome. That is why I continued to support it this week.
AGAINST THE BILL
Felix Ling, co-organiser of the protest event mentioned above.
This bill will allow police to impose ‘conditions’ on protests if their actions cause ‘serious annoyance’ to the surrounding community, organisations and businesses.
We are deeply disappointed to see Parliament pass this bill. This legislation is an outright attack on our right to assembly and protest, aiming to make it as ineffective as possible. Leamington has a rich history of protest and community campaigns.
Hundreds of local people turned out for the March for the NHS in 2017, for the Climate Strikes and Stop The Coup protests in 2019, for Black Lives Matter in 2020 and now for the 'Kill The Bill' protests in 2021. Many local organisations are united in our opposition to these laws.
The bill could mean the police placing start and finish times on protests, and anyone who does not stick to these conditions could be fined £2,500. The police are granted powers to prevent protests which may cause ‘serious unease, alarm or distress’ to bystanders, with the Home Secretary having the power to later define what qualifies as such an offence. A march that generates noise which 'may' have ‘significant relevant impact on persons in the vicinity’ could be banned.
This bill is a blatant attack on our human rights, put in place to silence movements like BLM and Extinction Rebellion. Protests are so important because they unify people and that scares the people in power. These streets are our streets and these rights are our rights.
We will continue to oppose this legislation and will campaign for our democratic rights to protest to be reinstated.