Letter to Alan Whitehead, MP
14 Evelyn Crescent
13th January 2022
Dear Alan Whitehead,
The government’s Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (the Policing Bill) reaches a crucial stage in the House of Lords this month. This has major implications around the freedom to express opinions publicly. I would not like to see our local peaceful protests in Southampton banned by the government or the police because they did not like them.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International says this Bill “represents an enormous and unprecedented extension of policing powers which would effectively give both police and government ministers the powers to ban, limit or impose undue restrictions on peaceful protests”.
This already draconian Bill has been made even more dangerous by 18 pages of amendments that have been slipped in at a late stage, without proper scrutiny or debate. Among other things, these amendments would greatly expand police “stop and search” powers, allowing the police to stop and search people or vehicles they suspect might be carrying any item that could be used in “prohibited protests”.
A prohibited protest is defined in the Bill as any protest that has “a relevant impact” on or causes “serious annoyance” to any person within the vicinity of the protest, or that causes “serious disruption” to any organisation. The Financial Times reported on 3 December that “lawyers say this is among the vaguest and most imprecise language they have ever seen”. Material for use in such protests might include placards, banners, loudhailers or any other items commonly used by protesters.
These amendments also give police the right to stop and search people without suspicion, if they believe that protest will occur in a particular area. And they make it a criminal offence to protest if an individual had previously committed “protest-related offences”.
In effect, the Bill gives the police, acting under instruction from government, the power to stop any protest. The criminal offences created by the Bill and its amendments carry a maximum sentence of 51 weeks in prison.
The Bill clearly contradicts Article 11 of the Human Rights Act, which protects our right to protest by holding meetings and demonstrations. As human rights organisation Liberty points out: “The State can’t interfere with your right to protest just because it disagrees with protesters’ views, or because it’s likely to be inconvenient and cause a nuisance.”
The Bill opens the door to dictatorial powers that would remove some of our most basic democratic rights and freedoms. They would enable the government, or future governments, to turn the UK into a police state.
I hope you and your colleagues will do everything in your power to make sure that these extremely dangerous amendments are removed, and then that the Bill as it stands does not move forward. If not, I would be interested to know why you are not prepared to stand up for the human rights that underpin our democracy.
I look forward to hearing from you.