The Government’s legislative agenda for the next year – set out in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech – contains a series of deeply troubling measures, from plans to introduce Voter ID to a piece of legislation to prevent ‘no platforming’ at universities. They masquerade as confected solutions to non-existent problems. But in fact, they are worse – they are transparent attempts to silence opposition.
But these proposals, deeply concerning as they are, risk overshadowing the more immediate danger of the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (the “PCSC Bill”) being pushed through without robust opposition. The Bill is set to return to the House of Commons in the next couple of weeks for what is known as the Committee Stage.
We commissioned advice from Phillippa Kaufmann QC and Anita Davies at Matrix Chambers on the part of the Bill that deals with protest rights, and we promised we would publish that advice. It can now be accessed here.
The advice confirms some of our deep worries about the protest provisions in the Bill, but also highlights that the defining battle will be around how the Home Secretary exercises her powers under the Bill to define certain key phrases such as ‘significant disruption’. The definitions of these key terms will effectively set the tone for how protests are policed from now on.
Below are some of the key findings from the advice.
And that’s just the protest provisions. There are, of course, other aspects of the Bill that should concern all of us – including the proposed criminalisation of trespass in a way that disproportionately impacts Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities, and the fact that the plans for policing and sentencing are likely to further entrench racial inequality in the criminal justice system.
We are continuing to speak to MPs on both sides of the aisle to highlight our concerns. But if the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, introduces regulations of the sort anticipated, Good Law Project will bring or support legal action, alongside other civil society watchdogs, to try to stem our alarming slide towards authoritarianism.
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