How the UK Public Order Bill could enhance the right to protest | Daily News Byte

How the UK Public Order Bill could enhance the right to protest

 | Daily News Byte


as As the climate crisis worsens, and international efforts to mitigate its effects falter, activists like Cameron Ford have grown bolder. For the past year and a half, the 32-year-old British carpenter has blocked highways by sticking himself to roads and chained himself to an oil tanker.

Like most environmental campaigners, Ford never wanted to do anything that could land him in jail. “I was hoping to immigrate to Canada one day,” he says from his home in Cambridge. But Ford changed his mind about the need for bolder activism after attending a talk organized by climate group Insulate Britain last summer. “It made sense to make a stand first, while there was still a chance that we could actually mitigate the worst of it, rather than once it was too late,” he says.

Ford is hardly alone in this view. Other British protesters like him have gone as far as building tunnels under major infrastructure projects, throwing soup on famous works of art and scaling a 190-food bridge – all in a desperate bid to draw public attention to the weather disaster.

But their democratic right to protest is now under threat as the British government declares war on tactics it sees as disruptive and idealistic. Illegal. Draft legislation approved by the House of Commons in October would introduce unprecedented restrictions on the right to protest in England and Wales (Westminster has no jurisdiction over policing in Scotland and Northern Ireland). If Britain’s parliament’s advisory upper chamber, the House of Lords, gives the green light to the Public Order Bill in its current form, there will be new criminal offenses for engaging in popular protest tactics. (The final wording of the law is currently being debated by both houses of parliament, a process known as “parliamentary ping pong”.) The bill also increases police powers to stop and search suspected protesters, and allows certain individuals to be detained. Total opposition.

“This is the kind of law you would expect in Russia or Iran or Egypt or China,” says British author and environmental activist George Monbiot. “It’s not the kind of law you would expect to see in a nominal democracy.”

The legislation, which is expected to be passed next year, is likely to be approved with little input or debate from ordinary Britons. A proposal for such a bill was absent from the 2019 election manifesto that mandated it to the Conservative government; The lack of robust public debate on the topic suggests that many voters may not even be aware that such legislation is being considered.

“Most people don’t realize how extreme this law is,” says Rupert Reid, a British environmental campaigner and co-director of the Moderate Flank Incubator, a climate advocacy group. “Bill, and his extreme authoritarianism, didn’t cut it.”

A slate of “strict” measures

This is not the first time the British government has tried to stop what it sees as disruptive protests. Just this year, lawmakers passed the Police, Crime, Punishment and Courts (PCSC) Act, which gave police the power to impose time and noise conditions on demonstrations, even those involving just one person. The law also provides for stiffer penalties for disruptive tactics such as blocking highways, which can now result in up to 51 weeks in jail, an unlimited fine, or both. Some of the Act’s most controversial measures—including a slate of new criminal offenses designed to prevent demonstrations by environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil—were considered so extraordinary that they were rejected by the House of Lords.

Jenny Jones, a Green Party peer in the House of Lords who voted against last-minute amendments to the PCSC that introduced the measures, says they were designed to dampen opposition. “Ironically, it was the government’s attempt to bypass parliamentary scrutiny by MPs that enabled the Lords to defeat these 18 pages of new amendments.”

The ink was barely dry on the PCSC Act when the government introduced the Public Order Bill in May, breathing new life into its previously blocked measures. Among those causing the most concern among lawmakers, civil rights groups and environmental campaigners are the expansion of police stop and search powers as well as the criminalization of a longstanding civil resistance strategy. The latter include “locking on” (in which a protester attaches himself to an object, infrastructure or other people to make it difficult to remove) and “tunneling” (blocking construction works). Perhaps most worrying of all is the bill’s introduction of “serious disturbance prevention orders”, which could be used to ban individuals from engaging in protests at all and force them to submit to electronic monitoring.

read more: Why climate protesters are throwing food at art

“This is obviously a deeply draconian measure,” says Jody Beck of the civil-liberties organization Liberty, noting that the law has the potential to outlive some of the same tactics used by civil resistance movements throughout British history. “The diversity of protest tactics throughout history shows how interconnected all these struggles are,” adds Beck. “If we were to stop a particular tactic now, that would have profound implications for our rights protests as a whole, no matter what our cause.”

Voices from within Parliament have raised similar alarms. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, a parliamentary group that scrutinizes government bills on their compatibility with Britain’s human rights obligations, warned in a September report that the proposed legislation would “pose an unacceptable threat to the fundamental right to engage in peaceful protest” and that the British government would be subject to human rights violations. Risk of being put in conflict with the European Convention. Conservative MP Charles Walker, who tabled an amendment to remove serious disturbance prevention orders from the law, told the House of Commons that “the idea that in this country we are going to ankle tag someone who has not been convicted in court . law” in more repressive countries like China “will be watching this very closely.” Former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis echoed Walker’s concerns when he warned that the Public Order Bill threatened Britain’s ability to “take the moral high ground”, particularly when faced with repressive regimes in places like Russia or Iran.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office, the government department sponsoring the legislation, told TIME in an emailed statement that while the right to protest is a “fundamental principle” of British democracy, “the kind of activity we’ve seen recently is criminal activity, and a selfish minority who want our Those who delay the emergency services from their saving duties and drain police resources will face appropriate penalties.”

Quite apart from the bill’s contents, “it’s really badly drafted,” says Jones of the House of Lords, where the legislation is currently under scrutiny. While Jones and his colleagues may press the government to limit the scope of more relevant measures – for example, what constitutes a “serious disturbance” is unclear – it is widely expected that some revisions to the proposed legislation will be enacted. In law by spring.

Climate-related arrests are on the rise in Britain

It is not that the British authorities lacked the power to crush disruptive opposition. According to Insulate Britain, which advocates improving the insulation of all British homes by 2030, its 174 supporters have been arrested almost 900 times since September 2021, many on charges of public nuisance and blocking highways. A spokesman for the group says 51 court trials are scheduled to take place over the next year, the first of which was postponed last month after a judge asked prosecutors to consider whether it was in the public interest to go ahead with the trial; The second, which ended last week, resulted in the unanimous acquittal of three supporters of the movement.

“The police have the authority to take us off the road, and they did it,” says Ford, who has been arrested six times on public nuisance charges for his participation in highway blockades and climate demonstrations. As he sees it, the aim of the Public Order Bill is not to arm the police with powers they should already have over protesters, but to “turn us into criminals in the eyes of the public”.

And that trick can work. According to a November poll by YouGov, Britons oppose Just Stop Oil practices by a margin of 62% to 21%. This negative perception is fueled in part by unfavorable coverage in the right-wing British press—parts of which have denigrated environmental protesters as “eco-enthusiasts” for their disruptive tactics. But it also comes down to the fact that while many Britons support climate activists’ overall message about the importance of insulating their homes and reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, they don’t agree with how it is delivered.

“There is probably a feeling in some quarters that what Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil has done is so fraught that there is less pushback against an authoritarian response to it than there might otherwise be,” says Reid. “What we need to think about, always, very carefully [as activists] Do because what we do has consequences and it can be difficult to undo.”

Like suffragettes before them, many climate activists seem to have made peace with the fact that history will look more kindly on them. But unlike the suffragettes, who were more militant and willing to embrace violence, climate activism in Britain has been peaceful. “This movement is very dedicated to hard work, non-violence and peaceful protest,” says Claire Farrell, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion. “It can be disruptive, but he is always committed to making that work accountable. We use our real names, we show up, we show our faces, we take the consequences, we are ready to arrest and those who Willing to do whatever it takes.

It is precisely for this reason that she and other activists say they will not stop even if the new measures are enacted into law.

“When [climate collapse] That’s what we face, I think the only thing that’s going to bring us down is the death penalty,” Ford says, “because the alternative to us not standing up is death.”

Should read more than TIME

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