UK: The Public Order Bill is an attack on the right to protest

Article by Fair Trials

EDIT 1 Nov 2022: Since this article was first published, the Public Order Bill passed through the Commons and is now back in the House of Lords for its second reading. Read our second joint briefing on the Bill here.

The Public Order Bill reaches Report Stage in the House of Commons just months after anti-protest measures passed into the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act come into force.

Fair Trials is part of a coalition spanning the human rights, privacy, criminal justice, democracy, LGBT+, children’s rights, international development, environment, freedom of speech and expression, violence against women and girls, refugees’ and migrants’ rights, community, and faith sectors, standing against the Public Order Bill in its entirety.

We are urging parliamentarians to defend everyone’s right to protest by voting against this Bill in its entirety.

No coherent case has been made by the Government for introducing further public order measures, yet the arguments against further clampdowns on the right to protest continues to pile high. The vast majority of measures contained within this Bill have already been rejected by parliamentarians across the political spectrum after being voted out of the PCSC Act at Lords Report Stage in January 2022. The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has recently joined voices of opposition through warning that the introduction of the Public Order Bill risks creating a “hostile environment” for people exercising their fundamental rights.[1]

This Bill must also be viewed alongside broader moves to curtail the rights beyond protest. As well as the PCSC Act coming into force, the Government have just passed legislation to introduce photographic voter ID and restrict judicial review, limiting people’s ability to make their voices heard at the ballot box and in the courts.

Through the raft of new protest-specific offences, expansion of police powers and introduction of ‘protest banning orders’, the Public Order Bill stands to create a significant chilling effect on our ability to stand up to power, dissuading people from exercising their right to protest and to freedom of assembly as well as sweeping more and more people into the criminal justice system for doing so.

Read the full joint briefing on the Bill here.

[1]Joint Committee on Human Rights, Government creating hostile environment for peaceful protest, report finds, 17 June 2022.