What are the most controversial parts of the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill?
TEARING UP THE POST WAR SETTLEMENT – THE 1948 UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS – Police State UK Criminalising Protest & Homelessness: MPs Are Bringing In Priti Patel’s Police Crime Sentencing & Courts Bill
Police can impose more conditions on protests
Clause 55 will let police impose start and finish times and maximum noise levels on a wider range of protests in England and Wales.
Officers will be able to do this if they believe the noise may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation nearby.
The power is not limited in the law to noise levels or start times – a police officer can take such conditions as appear necessary to that officer to prevent disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation.
The Home Office argue this is simply widening powers that already exist for moving marches to cover static protests as well. But civil liberties groups say noise and disruption are a key part of making your voice heard.
It will be up to the Home Secretary – currently Priti Patel – to decide the definition of serious disruption.
Serious annoyance will carry up to 10 years jail
Clause 59 will axe the common law definition of public nuisance and replace it with a clear set of words agreed by Parliament.
It will make it a crime to intentionally or recklessly cause public nuisance without a reasonable excuse.
Offenders will get up to a years jail from magistrates or 10 years from a crown court judge if found guilty, in the worst cases.
The government insists this is simply taking the current definition of public nuisance and putting it on a proper footing. This will provide clarity to the police and potential offenders, giving clear notice of what conduct is forbidden, the Home Office said.
But there is not a clear list of reasonable excuses – the government just say defendants will have to prove that excuse existed in court, on the balance of probabilities.
And two words in this clause have attracted a lot of interest.
Someone will fall foul of the law if they have caused a person serious distress, serious annoyance, serious inconvenience or serious loss of amenity. How will serious annoyance be interpreted by police?
Most loudhailers will be banned outside Parliament
Clause 57 will hugely expand the controlled area outside Parliament, where tents and unauthorised loudspeakers or megaphones are banned.
Currently the area only covers the garden and footpaths in the middle of Parliament Square, with other roads around it not under any special anti-protest law.
But the Bill will expand this controlled area to several roads around Parliament after a number of demos stopped traffic. These roads are Canon Row, Parliament Street, Derby Gate, Parliament Square and part of Victoria Embankment.
Those who disobey can be fined up to 5,000.
A similar move was recommended by Parliaments Joint Committee on Human Rights, which warned access to parliament must not be obstructed after a wave of threats against MPs.
However, opposition has united critics from Richard Tice, leader of Nigel Farages anti-lockdown Reform UK party, to Tom Brufatto, former lead organiser of the Peoples Vote marches against Brexit.
In an open letter today they say: As long as laws are made in Parliament, then British people must have a legal right to protest them in Parliament Square. Democracy is not an ‘inconvenience’. Public opposition and dissent are among the hard-won rights that make our democratic and like-minded groups.
One-person protests face a crackdown
One-man anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray (Image: Jeff Mitchell)
Clause 60 has already been dubbed the Steve Bray law, after the man who spent years shouting Stop Brexit! at Parliament.
It will give senior police the power to impose any conditions they see fit on a one-person protest to avoid disruption or impact.
This can only be done if they believe the noise that person is making may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried on in the vicinity of the protest.
But once again, Home Secretary Priti Patel will be able to define this serious disruption.
One-man-bands who knowingly refuse to comply with police orders can be fined up to 2,500. Someone who incites the one-person protest not to comply could be jailed for up to 51 weeks.
Ardent Remainer AC Grayling tweeted: It’s a great honour to Steve Bray, and an unmistakable sign of the weakness, pettiness, illiberality and unintelligence of this Brexiter ‘government’, that it seeks to pass a Bill that singles him out.
He has humiliated and stung them and they want to shut him up; he should be knighted.
Is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill fit for purpose?
Defacing a statue will carry up to 10 years jail
Clause 46 will raise the maximum penalty for criminal damage to a memorial or statue from three months to 10 years.
Currently judges and magistrates have to base their sentence on the monetary value of the damage. In future they will be able to look at the emotional and symbolic value of the damaged statue too, said minister Kit Malthouse.
The Tories are doing this in a culture war after statues including Winston Churchills were attacked or damaged with graffiti.
No10 insisted the focus would be on vile things like anti-Semitic graffiti or attacks on gravestones, war memorials, memorials to people whove been murdered.
But thats not quite how it was trailed in right-wing newspapers. The issue has prompted anger from Labour, who say the move is a distraction and will in theory mean longer sentences for attacking statues than some attacks on women.
People in protest camps can be jailed for three months
Clause 60 will create a new offence of residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle.
This could affect protest camps like Extinction Rebellion, as the law will apply even if their residing is only temporary, and will apply equally to common land and private land.
Protesters can be ordered to leave by police if they are deemed to be causing significant disruption, or even if they havent caused disruption yet but it is deemed likely in future.
If they refuse, they can be fined up to 2,500 or jailed for up to three months.
Police will also be given more powers to remove unauthorised encampments on roads.
A petition signed by more than 130,000 people warned criminalising trespass would be an extreme, illiberal and unnecessary attack on ancient freedoms, adding: For a thousand years, trespass has been a civil offence.
Critics say the law threatens not only protests, but also wild camping, ramblers, new rights of way and Traveller communities.
What else is in the Bill?
The plans include new laws to reform sentencing, the courts and the management of offenders, as well as more powers and protections for the police, some of which will be UK-wide while others may only apply in England and Wales.
All these could in theory still be approved by MPs later, while removing the bits on protest, if the Bill passes second reading.
- Whole Life Orders for premeditated murder of a child
- Maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, like for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life.
- Powers to halt the automatic early release of offenders who pose a danger to the public
- Ending the automatic release halfway through a sentence of serious violent and sexual offenders.
- Life sentences for killer drivers.
- Expanding position of trust laws to make it illegal for sports coaches and religious leaders to engage in sexual activity with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care.
- Officers could also be allowed to stop and search people more if plans for serious violence reduction orders go ahead.
- Legal duty on councils, police, criminal justice bodies, health and fire services to tackle serious violence and share intelligence.
- Deaf people could sit on juries for the first time.
What does it do for women whove suffered violence?
There are some limited clauses, such as ending early release for serious sexual offenders. But Labour have complained the Bill does not do enough to help women.
Shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips said: The Bill is full of divisive nonsense like locking up those who damage statues for longer than those who attack women. Now is a moment to change the criminal justice system so it works for women, not to try and divide the country.
Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy said: In the 20 schedules, 176 clauses and 296 pages of the Conservatives’ Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, “women” are not mentioned even once.
Police minister Kit Malthouse insisted the government had taken steps to protect women.
He said: The domestic abuse bill, which is an extensive bill that will significantly enhance our ability to confront domestic violence and abuse is just finishing its passage through the House and contains enormous provisions to help us with that fight.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently in its report stage in the House of Lords – one of the later steps towards it becoming law.
But it has taken three years to get this far – having been delayed in coming to a vote by two successive General Elections.
What is Labours position?
Labour will vote against the entire Bill at second reading. If that succeeded (it wont) it would kill off the entire Bill at the first hurdle.
Realistically, its likely Labour will then try to amend the most controversial bits of the Bill while supporting other bits of it.
The party says it supports several measures contained within the bill, including proposals on dangerous driving, increased sentences for terrorists and other dangerous offenders, a police covenant, reform to criminal records and closing the loophole to criminalise sexual abuse by people in positions of trust.
The Tories claimed Labour was voting against tougher sentences for child murderers, sex offenders, killer drivers. While Labour is voting against the Bill at its first hurdle, this characterisation is misleading to the point of being untrue.
Shadow Domestic Violence Minister Jess Phillips responded: This is a disgusting and untrue statement. The Conservative Governments Bill does absolutely nothing currently to increase sentences for rapists, stalkers, or those who batter, control and abuse women. It does nothing about street harassment and assaults.