Emergency Food Supply

The UK Government Set to Give Police More Discretion

The UK government is set to give police more discretion to intervene in disruptive protests by introducing an amendment to the Public Order Bill.[0] The amendment expands the legal definition of ‘serious disruption’ to give police more clarity over when they can intervene in protests such as blocking roads or slow marching.[1] Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but this is not absolute. A balance must be struck between the rights of individuals and the rights of the hard-working majority to go about their day-to-day business. We cannot have protests conducted by a small minority disrupting the lives of the ordinary public. It’s not acceptable and we’re going to bring it to an end.”[2]

The amendment is designed to tackle tactics commonly used by environmental activists such as Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion, and will also criminalize certain actions such as attaching oneself to objects or buildings and granting courts the ability to limit the rights of certain protesters to prevent significant disruption.[1]

In addition, the police will not need to wait for disruption to take place and can shut protests down before chaos erupts.[3] This comes after police chiefs informed the Prime Minister that there is some uncertainty over what reaches the threshold of ‘serious disruption’.[1]

Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, declared the new proposals to be “an attack on our rights” and insisted that “must be resisted”.[4] She declared that these attempts “should be seen for what they are: a desperate attempt to shut down any route for ordinary people to make their voices heard”.[5]

The House of Lords will now review the bill, and it could be prevented from becoming law. The government has asserted that, should the proposed legislation be passed, it will grant the police authority to act preemptively to put an end to disruptive protests.[3]

Today's changes will provide police officers with a clear understanding of when they should intervene.[6] Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, said: “We have not sought any new powers to curtail or constrain protest, but have asked for legal clarity about where the balance of rights should be struck.”[0]

The bill covers England and Wales and is in the final stages of debate in parliament.[7] The House of Lords is currently examining it.

0. “UK government to make it easier for police to stop protests” Al Jazeera English, 16 Jan. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/16/uk-government-to-make-it-easier-for-police-to-stop-protests

1. “‘Freedom to protest is a fundamental principle but not absolute’: UK PM Rishi Sunak announces measures to clamp down disruptive protests” OpIndia, 16 Jan. 2023, https://www.opindia.com/2023/01/uk-pm-rishi-sunak-announces-measures-to-clamp-down-disruptive-protests-public-order-bill

2. “Police to get new powers to shut down protests amid fightback against disruptive tactics” The Telegraph, 16 Jan. 2023, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2023/01/15/slow-walking-protests-face-shutdown-amid-fightback-against-guerilla/

3. “Public Order Bill would give police power to close down climate protests” The Times, 16 Jan. 2023, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/public-order-bill-would-give-police-power-to-close-down-climate-protests-zsmzh52hv

4. “New plans to widen police powers for disruptive protests” BBC, 16 Jan. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-64282962

5. “Police in England and Wales to get new powers to shut down protests before disruption begins” The Guardian, 15 Jan. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/15/police-to-get-new-powers-to-shut-down-protests-before-disruption-begins

6. “Ministers are Introducing a Form of ‘Pre-Crime' so Protesters can be Arrested Before they Protest – Byline Times” Byline Times, 17 Jan. 2023, https://bylinetimes.com/2023/01/17/ministers-are-introducing-a-form-of-pre-crime-so-protesters-can-be-arrested-before-they-protest/

7. “FactCheck: new anti-protest police powers explained” Channel 4 News, 17 Jan. 2023, https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-new-anti-protest-police-powers-explained

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