LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Bill will take away our rights and criminalise normal citizens
A short while ago our PM confessed to all the parties and total disregard of pandemic laws at Downing Street Xmas celebrations, creating howls of protests, “told you sos”, and calls for resignation in parliament, the media, and every other public place, and throughout all these outcries, blanket coverage and the resultant smokescreens to the exclusion of all else, his government has quietly, stealthily and with no protest whatsoever been carrying out its greatest assault on our actions, our freedom of speech and our democracy for over a hundred years, namely the final passage through the House of Lords of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the last full debate before it is made law.
But not just the bill as debated, published and fought for during the last year, but with brand new amendments numbers 148 to 159, 15 pages of additional laws never put before the House of Commons, all strengthening, enhancing and widening its scope out of all recognition.
So what can we expect if this bill is passed in its new amended form?
Peaceful protest will now be criminalised. Any protest, demonstration or rally can be stopped, diverted or prohibited completely, on the receipt by the police of complaints, either of “relevant impact” or “serious annoyance” by not less than two persons in vicinity, or which may cause “serious disruption” to any organisation. The penalty for not immediately complying, arrest and up to 51 weeks imprisonment, so in future no parades, no children’s demonstrations, no vigils, no public gatherings, no anti-fracking picket lines, or factory gate pickets, whether union or publicly sponsored or not.
Police in future will be authorised to stop and search any person or vehicle, no warning or reason required. Previously in connection with drugs or weapons, but now to include placards, banners, loudhailers, notices or literature in connection with protests or demonstrations. Penalty for protesting or possession of any materials deemed by police to be relevant, up to the same 51 weeks.
Protest banning orders placed on individuals stopping them from attending, publicising or sharing information about protests for two years. These are orders placed in advance and based on suspicion only, so you are guilty as charged before you do a thing.
Police to also have the right to stop and search any person without suspicion if they think a protest or demonstration may occur in a vicinity.
A new trespass offence that criminalises entry by persons or vehicles without express permission onto private or public land, aimed principally at gipsies, nomads and travellers, but as worded could be used against rough sleepers, homeless, or anyone seeking shelter without a fixed roof over their heads. In short, the destruction of a nomadic way of life, and also to class as criminal anyone in poverty.
Not a very long list I know, but this bill was 307 pages long even before the 15 page addition of the House of Commons unseen 11 added amendments, so this letter is just a sample of what to expect from the whole, and in any event this bill is receiving its final review in the Lords even as I write, so by the time you read this it may be all over. And for those who say I only criticise the Conservatives, the Labour lords are as I write are still unsure as to whether to oppose the new clauses or let them go through, and are waiting for Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, to give them a clue.
Yep, we sure live in interesting times
Charles David Foulstone, Rotherham Green Party