Part 3 (clauses 54 to 60), of the Bill would make major changes to the way protests are policed in England and Wales:
- Clauses 54 to 56 and 60 would amend police powers in the Public Order Act 1986 so police can impose conditions on protests that are noisy enough to cause “intimidation or harassment” or “serious unease, alarm or distress” to bystanders.
- Clauses 57 and 58 would amend provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to expand the “controlled area” around Parliament where certain protest activities are prohibited. It would also add obstructing access to the Parliamentary Estate to the activities prohibited in the “controlled area”.
- Clause 59 would abolish the common law offence of public nuisance and replace it with a new statutory offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”.
- changes in the tactics employed by certain protesters, for example gluing themselves to buildings or vehicles, blocking bridges or otherwise obstructing access to buildings such as the Palace of Westminster and newspaper printing works, have highlighted some gaps in current legislation.
Part 4 (clauses 61 to 63) of the Bill would amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (CJPOA) to:
- create a new offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”.
- amend the existing police powers associated with unauthorised encampments in the CJPOA to lower the threshold at which they can be used, allow the police to remove unauthorised encampments on (or partly on) highways and prohibit unauthorised encampments moved from a site from returning within twelve months.
Parts 3 and 4 are amongst the most controversial provisions in the Bill.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire & Rescue Services has given their “qualified support for…. Home Office proposals for changes in the law”. They say they “would improve the effectiveness of protest policing, as long as they are applied proportionately and in line with human rights law”. Human rights advocates have not agreed. Gracie Bradley (the Director of Liberty) says the provisions concerning protest will “undermine protest, which is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy”.
The Government’s pre-legislative consultation regarding unauthorised encampments generated a number of organised campaigns in opposition including an e-petition which garnered 134,932 signatures. The petition called the Government’s proposed criminal offence “extreme, illiberal and unnecessary”.
The Government says there is an “appetite to extend powers available to the police when dealing with unauthorised encampments”, particularly from local authorities. It says the new offence, in combination with its proposed amendments to the CJPOA will:
- give police the tools to deal with a variety of harms caused by unauthorised encampments in a proportionate, effective and efficient manner.
It says the new offence will not affect ramblers and that its intention is to “deter trespassers from setting up or residing on an unauthorised encampment.”