Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Limiting freedom to protest - late-in-the-day government amendments to Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has recently completed its Committee Stage in the House of Lords.  This is a substantial Bill comprising 13 Parts, 179 clauses, 20 Schedules.  

Bill as amended at Lords Committee stage

At the Committee Stage the government introduced extensive and substantial amendments which had not been considered by the House of Commons and were not on the face of the Bill at the House of Lords Second Reading. 

The government amendments extended to 18 pages and may be seen at pages 68 to 86  of the 9th Marshalled List of amendments under the name of Baroness Williams of Trafford (Minister of State, Home Office).

The amendments are far from being minor changes. They amount

to serious limitations on the ability of individuals to protest lawfully. 

A new offence of "locking on" would be created and also "going equipped for locking on."  "Locking on" to structures such as railings is hardly a new protest tactic and was used by some of the suffragettes a century ago - Suffragettes suffered terribly and even died for their cause – Historical articles and illustrationsHistorical articles and illustrations | Look and Learn

A further offence of obstructing major transport works would be created. 

Powers of stop and search will be extended and the amendments seek to introduce stop and search without suspicion. 

Yet another major introduction to the law will be Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (SDPO).

Having been introduced at Committee Stage, they were then withdrawn but Baroness Williams stated that the government intends to bring them forward at Report Stage - see Hansard House of Lords 24 November 2021.

This government tactic has all the appearance of a government treating Parliament with a lack of respect and seeking to prevent the detailed examination which such proposals ought to receive from Parliament.

Baroness Williams said that the government "stands by the right to freedom of expression and assembly" and added that "no democracy can survive without them." 

Having said that, Williams went on to say that those freedoms are qualified rights and must be balanced against the rights and freedoms of others. That proposition is, of course, correct but the question is whether the proposed measures are proportionate.

Williams pointed out that the amendments were in response to the significant and repeated disruption seen over the last months by a small number of protesters. "Their behaviour has clearly demonstrated that the balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of others tips too far in favour of the protesters."

In support of the amendments, Williams quoted the President of the Queen's Bench Division in the recent M25 injunction case who had said -

“In a democratic society which recognises the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, protests causing some degree of inconvenience are to be expected and, up to a point, tolerated. But the words ‘up to a point’ are important. Ordinary members of the public have rights too”.

Writing in The Guardian, George Monbiot asks whether Britain is becoming a police State by stealth -

Jailed for 51 weeks for protesting? Britain is becoming a police state by stealth | George Monbiot | The Guardian

"This is proper police state stuff. The last-minute amendments crowbarred by the government into the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill are a blatant attempt to stifle protest, of the kind you might expect in Russia or Egypt. Priti Patel, the home secretary, shoved 18 extra pages into the bill after it had passed through the Commons, and after the second reading in the House of Lords. It looks like a deliberate ploy to avoid effective parliamentary scrutiny. Yet in most of the media there’s a resounding silence."

If the House of Lords dislikes the government's tactics then it could vote against the amendments which, after all, have not been examined by the House of Commons. Whether the House will do so remains to be seen. The Report Stage will be one to watch ....!

1 December 2021

Addendum 7 December:

The Marshalled list of amendments for House of Lords report stage - the amendments discussed in this post are at pages 57 to 79.

List of amendments HL Report Stage  (

Addendum 15 January 2022:

Labour peers to oppose amendments to police and crime bill | House of Lords | The Guardian

Addendum 18 January 2022:

BBC News - Lords defeats for government's protest clamp-down plans

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