What the policing bill means for your right to protest

MPs will vote tonight on whether new legislation, which would curtail citizens' rights to be heard, should become law. Here's what you need to know

This evening, MPs will vote on whether The Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill should become law. The new bill is a piece of legislation that proposes to “reform the justice system”, and includes proposed changes such as “tougher sentencing for worst offenders” and ending automatic halfway release from prison for certain crimes, as well as changes that will directly impact protesting.

The bill has been criticised by the Labour party and in an open letter from a coalition of UK organisations including Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, which urges MPs to “Kill The Bill”. The bill promises to instigate “more proactive approach in managing highly disruptive protests” – so what exactly does that mean?

There will be more restrictions on “static” protests

The bill proposes to “widen the range of conditions that the police can impose on static protests, to match existing police powers to impose conditions on marches” – this means police can impose start and finish times to protests, and set noise limits. It’ll also broaden the situations where police can instigate these conditions, allowing them to impose these conditions to single person protests.

And if you don’t follow these restrictions – you could be convicted

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The bill will “amend the offence relating to the breaching of conditions”. This means that if you’re protesting and there are restrictions that you “ought” to know about (even if a police officer hasn’t told you), you could be convicted. At the moment, police need to prove protesters have been told to move on before they can be convicted – this would change that.

Or, as the Government puts it, this will “close a loophole which some protesters exploit. Some will cover their ears and tear up written conditions handed to them by the police so that they are likely to evade conviction for breaching conditions on a protest as the prosecution have to prove that the person ‘knowingly fails to comply with a condition imposed'”.

There will be higher penalties for defacing statues

The bill also includes reforms that’ll increase the maximum penalty for damaging memorials to 10 years in prison. They will: “Increase the maximum penalty for criminal damage of less than £5,000 to a memorial from three months to 10 years’ imprisonment”

You’ll be restricted from protesting around parliament

The bill includes the provision that will “ensure vehicular entrances to the Parliament Estate remain unobstructed”, and make it an offence to not comply with this direction, which will prevent protests happening around parliament.

“Intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance” will now be an offence

This is to stop people occupying public spaces, and to avoid protest tactics like gluing yourself to windows. Yep, it’s a sticky situation, all right.

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