How the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill must be modified to save protests

By Zong Li

This is the second segment of a two-part series on the ‘Protest Bill’. Read the first here.

IT is clear that the Protest Bill will affect Britain for the worse. Here’s how it should have been modified so that it can actually improve the country.

The Punishment for Wilful Obstruction of the Highway should remain a fine.

Amendments to the Policing Bill changed the punishment from a fine to up to 51 weeks in prison and a fine. Nearly a year in prison is a massive deterrent to people taking to the streets to stand up to power, and will also put more pressure onto courts and prisons.

Removing the SDPOs.

Amendments also create new Serious Disruption Prevention Orders. These can be imposed on people who have taken part in two or more protests in a five-year period when they are convicted of a second protest-related offence . This can stop people from being in certain places, encouraging action online, talking with certain people, the list is endless. The punishment is up to a year in prison.

Specifying the premises of Locking On

The amendments to the bill create two new offences: ‘locking on’ and ‘being equipped to lock on’. The government here is criminalising disruptive attachment, whereby you attach yourself to others, the land or property, or attach objects to other objects. The problem here is its deliberate obscurity. What does ‘locking on’ mean? Can you be thrown into prison for locking arms with fellow protestors? Would attaching your wheelchair to a traffic light as disabled activists did in 20128, be criminalised?

The government can very easily criminalise a lot of action with this move. As long as the action affects any system or piece of property – including bike locks and zip ties – it is punishable. In order to make this motion consistent with our democratic rights, we must make it more specific. It must be clear exactly what actions will be criminalised by this part of the Bill, preventing the government from taking the license to criminalise anything remotely close to the act of ‘locking on’.

Criminalising the Obstruction of Major Transport effectively, not arbitrarily.

There is a new offence that can be committed if one in any way does anything that can interfere with any apparatus relating to a major transport. This can be throwing oneself onto a motorway or emptying a water bottle near a train track. Already, the deliberate vaguity is a problem, but more importantly, anyone who is accused of anything leading to the obstruction of major transport is susceptible to 51 weeks incarceration. It will also be the first protest-related offence triggered by the SDPOs.Rather than people being deemed ‘innocent until proven guilty’, they are now deemed ‘guilty until proven innocent’.

Retaining the former Stop and Search guidelines

The former stop and search policies state that the police can stop and search anyone that they believe to possess weapons or ‘articles’ which can be used for: burglary, theft, motor theft, fraud and criminal damage. The new Bill will change this now to include transport obstruction, locking on, and public nuisance.

So, if a police officer believes that you have, for example, a bike lock, they have a license to search you. This is ridiculous, but it gets worse. Any police officer above the rank of inspector can stop and search anyone in an area where they think the above offences are about to take place. Therefore the police officer in question does not need any concrete reason for the stop and search.

It will now be entirely conditional on whether they believe they are in a location where an offence could take place. In the long-term, this means that police officers have all the power to stop and search arbitrarily, and we know that such measures disproportionately affect minority communities.

During 2019-2020, black people in particular were up to eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than their white counterparts. Doing the aforementioned will significantly improve the Policing Bill, by making it satisfy the needs of democracy.

The Colston 4 trial has affirmed, however, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Edward Colston was the shareholder and deputy governor of the Royal African Company. In Bristol, a statue was built of him, which displayed a person who had formed his empire on top of the enslavement of 84,000 men, women and children, and the deaths of 19,000 of them.

Four people were charged of toppling his statue and throwing it into the harbour, and even the supposedly impartial judges were unable to charge the defendants, and they were found not guilty.

Jurors recognise the need for disruptive protest tactics in certain scenarios. It’s time politicians did too.

Opinion articles featured on Redaction Report reflect the views of their author, not those of the publication as a whole. Only Editorials display the opinions of our management.

Zong Li is a freelance writer.

Featured Image: Socialist Appeal @ Flickr

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