Can the police arrest me for protesting? Part 2
We recently wrote about the range of new police powers which were introduced by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Act 2022 (‘PCSC 2022’). A new bill, currently making its way through Parliament, represents a further attempt by the Government to tighten restrictions on protest and enhance police powers.
The Public Order Bill 2022 (‘POB 2022’) was introduced in May 2022 and includes defeated measures from the PCSC 2022 that were removed due to concerns about their impact on protest rights. The POB 2022 therefore represents a second attempt by the Government to introduce these more harsh and regressive measures.
What are the proposed laws?
Serious Disruption Prevention Orders
One of the main features of the POB 2022 is the introduction of Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (‘SDPO’s’). These are court orders which allow the State to place conditions on an individual either requiring them to do a particular thing described in the order or to refrain from doing a particular thing. For example, an order may require an individual to present themselves to a particular place at certain times of day or it may prohibit them from entering a particular place or area or from being with particular persons. It can also require an individual to submit to electronic monitoring to ensure their compliance with the order.
Accordingly, these orders can be used to restrict individual’s rights to protest by banning them from certain areas or from associating with other named individuals. The official stated purpose of these orders are described in the bill at section 16(5) and 17(4):
The purposes are—
- to prevent P from committing a protest-related offence or a protest-related breach of an injunction;
- to prevent P from carrying out activities related to a protest that result in, or are likely to result in, serious disruption to two or more individuals, or to an organisation, in England and Wales;
- to prevent P from causing or contributing to-
- the commission by any other person of a protest-related offence or a protest-related breach of an injunction, or
- the carrying out by any other person of activities related to a protest that result in, or are likely to result in, serious disruption to two or more individuals, or to an organisation, in England and Wales;
- to protect two or more individuals, or an organisation, in England and Wales from the risk of serious disruption arising from—
- a protest-related offence,
- a protest-related breach of an injunction, or
- activities related to a protest.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of these SDPO’s is that they can be imposed on individuals who have not been convicted of any crime. The police can accordingly apply to the Magistrates’ Court to impose an SDPO on individuals who have never broken the law.
The POB 2022 also contains various new protest-related offences including:
- Offence of locking on
- Offence of going equipped for locking on
- Offence of causing serious disruption by tunnelling
- Offence of interference with use or operation of key infrastructure
- Obstructing major transport works
These new offences represent a significant expansion of police powers to arrest and detain protestors who are suspected of committing these offences. The Network for Police Monitoring (NETPOL) have published an explainer which sets out further details of these offences here.
As with the PCSC 2022, many of the proposed offences and additional powers are not sufficiently defined and therefore it will be important for these powers to be tested and challenged in the courts if they make it into law.
Stop and search powers
The POB 2022 also introduces additional stop and search powers for police. These allow police to stop someone if they suspect that they are going to commit any of the above offences or certain other offences such as ‘obstructing the highway’. In light of the context around the introduction of this bill, it is likely that this will enable police to harass and target people involved in what are otherwise entirely lawful and peaceful protests.
The impact on the right to protest
As with the PCSC 2022, if this bill is made law, it will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the right to protest in the UK and there are likely to be more protestors that are arrested, surveilled and harassed by police under these new powers. Many have already raised the alarm about the threat to freedom of expression that the POB 2022 poses.
These new proposals would not only extend existing police powers but would also introduce the ability for police to arrest individuals on suspicion of new offences as well as imposing restrictive orders (including electronic monitoring) on individuals who have never been convicted of any crime.
It remains important that these proposals are challenged and if they are made law police must be held to account if they go beyond them and arrest or detain individuals unlawfully.
Our expert team of police action, civil liberties and human rights solicitors are experienced in bringing claims against the police. They are always happy to discuss your concerns about an incident involving the police. If you or someone you know has been arrested at a protest, call our office on 0207 632 4300.