2 March 2021 — Peoples Dispatch
Provisions in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill proposed in the UK parliament will give the police more discretionary powers to control protests and public gatherings
Protests have intensified across the UK demanding the withdrawal of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill proposed by the Tory government. On March 31, hundreds of people participated in the Kill the Bill protest in Bristol. Mobilizations were also held in Manchester and Sheffield on March 27. According to reports, in several places the police made arrests and harassed several protesters. Earlier, on March 21, protests in Bristol ended in clashes with the police.
The bill has been sent to the committee stage following its approval in the second reading. In this stage, the bill will be examined clause-by-clause. However, this process has been delayed and observers have cited the protests as the reason.
The bill, proposed in the UK parliament intends to overhaul the police and criminal justice system and sentencing legislation, contains provisions detrimental to the right to protest in the country, as per activists.
According to reports, the third part of the bill which deals with protests and public assembly, the police have been entrusted with unconditional powers to control public gatherings and protests. The police force will be allowed to criminalize protests by terming it “public nuisance,” and can control demonstrations by imposing start and finish timings and noise limits. Actions by even one individual can be considered as protest under the provisions of the new bill. Non-compliance with police guidelines may result in fines up to 2,500 pounds (USD 3458.65). Such provisions have evoked concern and have been denounced by progressive sections as an attack on the right to protest.
The Young Communist League (YCL) of Britain condemned the approval of the bill in its second reading in parliament, and called for the abandoning of the proceedings and the legislation. In its statement, YCL said that “this legislation seeks to further restrict the right to freedom of expression and protest by banning demonstrations in the area surrounding the parliamentary estate, increasing punishments for those caught defacing statues of up to 10 years imprisonment. In a literal silencing of protest, the legislation even seeks to allow the police the power to introduce noise limits on public protests.”
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said that “the delay to the Police crackdown Bill shows how much the pressure the government is under. We need to build a massive campaign — on this bill and against the Tories’ wider creeping authoritarianism,” he added.
Feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut also declared victory after proceedings on the controversial police powers bill was delayed in the parliament. The group had organized five days of action after a police attack on a peaceful vigil in honor of slain Sarah Everard at Clapham Common in London on March 13. The police action against the vigil drew widespread outrage across the UK.
Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, was killed in London in the second week of March, allegedly by a police officer. The murder triggered protests against the state of women’s safety in the country.
“The police are drunk on power and should not be granted more. This is the power of protest, and this is just the beginning. We are ready to fight the police powers bill at every stage of parliament,” said Sisters Uncut.
The Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG/FRFI) also organized demonstrations against the police bill in several cities across the UK. ”Protest is a human right, and we stand against all attempts to strip us of that right!” said RCG.