I am writing this open letter, as one of your constituents, to express my concern at some of the aspects of the introduction of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 which I believe has been deliberatively drafted as an excessively lengthy document (307 pages) and which is being rushed through the Commons on Monday in an attempt to avoid proper parliamentary debate and scrutiny.
Among its many proposals, I fear it contains the most draconian and disproportionate changes to our right of peaceful protest and freedom of assembly. A right which is enshrined and protected under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. I have read the Government’s factsheet but quite frankly I have no trust in the Minister of Justice’s words and intentions.
The police will be given new sweeping powers to restrict peaceful protests, setting conditions on the duration, maximum noise levels, and placing restrictions on where protests can take place. Furthermore, the bill unilaterally allows the Home Secretary to change the meaning of the words and terms in future, without further reference to Parliament.
Now, I am not a demonstrative person, in fact the only time I can recall ever going on a protest was at the tail end of a CND one in the late 60s to Aldermaston, but only then because there was a free music concert at the end, but I firmly believe that the right to peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic freedom so that law abiding citizens can register their profound unhappiness or strength of feeling in a way in which the State can not help but listen.
Many of our freedoms and rights we now take for granted have been obtained through people registering their profound unhappiness or strength of feeling by protest: the Chartist and social reforms of the 19th-century, women’s suffrage, the Mass Trespass, to name but a few. They were effective as ways for the people to express their dissatisfaction with the authorities of the time.
I appreciate the protests last year around Brexit, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Extinction Rebellion were embarrassing for the Government, but generally, these protests were peaceful and only aggravated by dissenting groups intent on causing trouble.
There are many aspects of this Bill that I find very troubling, but I have concentrated of just one in this letter: the restrictions of our right to protest. Rights which are already seriously curtailed in other parts of the world, in Hong Kong, Myanmar, Russia, Hungary.
Could I ask therefore, as one of your constituents that you attend the debates on this Bill and to make my reservations known. We should all be worried all that our fundamental rights are under attack.