The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, if it becomes law, will give senior police officers and politicians major new powers to restrict the democratic right to protest and to curtail freedom of expression. It will give members of PCS and other trade unions cause for concern.
The right to free speech and peaceful protest is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. Yet, a government which says it stands for freedom and democracy proposes giving the police and the home secretary unprecedented powers to criminalise people standing up for social justice.
Under the bill restrictions can be imposed if the noise of a protest “may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or could have “a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity of the procession”. A protest can even be restricted if it causes “serious annoyance. The bill provides for a penalty of 10 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both, for anyone convicted of causing a nuisance.
The government claims that it is protecting the rights of the “hard working majority” against disruptive protestors such as Extinction Rebellion. The political intention is clearly to prevent protests against the government from having any effective impact and gaining wider support. The bill strikes at the heart of our democracy.
The bill includes a provision for a new trespass offence that would criminalise Gypsy, Roma and Travellers. It sets out new stop and search powers when we know these are currently used disproportionately against young black people. The home secretary Priti Patel recently described the Black Lives Matter protests as “dreadful” and the powers in the bill would no doubt be used to prevent effective demonstrations against racism.
Ultimately the bill strikes at the heart of the trade union movement; working people throughout history have had to campaign with protests and demonstrations for our democratic rights in the face of attempts by employers and governments to exploit and oppress us. We will be campaigning against the policing biIl and we call on the trade union movement to unite against this threat to all working people.
Mark Serwotka Fran Heathcote
General Secretary President