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Curbs on non-violent protest in policing bill is inconsistent with human rights, MPs warn

Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

CURBS on non-violent protest in the government’s widely criticised policing Bill are oppressive and inconsistent with human rights, MPs and peers warned today. 

Calling on ministers to drop the “disproportionate” plan to ban noisy protests in England and Wales, Parliament’s joint committee on human rights said that the proposed legislation could also undermine freedom of expression.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill says group protests should not be loud enough to cause “serious unease, alarm or distress to people in the vicinity.”

A noise limit would also apply to a single person if they caused “serious disruption” or if they “may have a relevant impact on” people nearby, a move slammed by campaigners as unprecedented.

In a report highly critical of the Bill, the committee, which advises MPs and peers on the compatibility of all government Bills with human rights laws, is demanding the introduction of a statutory protection for the right to protest.

Councils should be told to stop interfering with demonstrations and be given the duty to facilitate them, the report urges. 

It adds that the language used in the legislation leaves police too much discretion over when to use stronger powers to break up “unauthorised encampments” and push for longer sentences for people convicted of serious crimes.

Commenting on the proposals, committee chairwoman and former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said: “One of our most fundamental rights is to protest. It is the essence of our democracy.

“To do that, we need to make ourselves heard. The government proposals to allow police to restrict ‘noisy’ protests are oppressive and wrong.”

MPs have already backed the Bill in principle and it is currently undergoing detailed scrutiny at committee stage. 

The government claims existing public order laws need updating because the use of “disruptive and dangerous tactics” costs the taxpayer and disrupts business.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. Our proposed measures are in line with human rights legislation and in no way impinge on the right to protest.

“[This Bill allows] police to better manage demonstrations so that legitimate protest groups can make their voices heard without disrupting the lives and livelihoods of others.”

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