Anti-repression legal support groups Green & Black Cross (GBC) and the Activist Court Aid Brigade (ACAB) have released a guide to how the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (PCSC Act) affects all of us.
The draconian PCSC Act sparked resistance across the UK last year, and an uprising in Bristol where people laid siege to the Bridewell police station, burning several police vehicles.
The Bill went through a series of amendments before being passed this year, meaning that it can be confusing to know which parts of the Bill made it into the Act, and which didn’t.
Now, GBC and ACAB’s guide has set out how the Act will affect protesters.
Increases to police anti-protest powers
Here are just a few of the changes to the law explained in the guide:
- Increasing police powers to stop/control demonstrations: The penalties for breaching the parts of the Public Order Act which govern marches and processions have been increased.
- Creating a crime of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”: This will have dire consequences for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, as well as those who live on protest sites. Police have the power to seize vehicles for three months (or until the end of any criminal proceedings that arise).
- Restricting noisy protests: Senior police officers now have increased powers to impose conditions on protests if they are ‘noisy’.
- Allowing the police to place restrictions on protests of just one person: Previously, there had to be two people present for restrictions to be made.
- Making the obstruction of vehicle access to parliament an offence: This will affect protests around Westminster.
- Creating an offence of statutory public nuisance: Public nuisance previously only existed as a common law offence (i.e. an offence that has been developed through case law, rather than a statute agreed by parliament).
- Assaulting an emergency worker: You can now be sentenced for longer – up to two years – for assaulting emergency workers (including police officers).
- Changes to pre-charge bail: The lengths of time that police can hold you on bail has been increased, with pre-charge bail time limits increased from a starting point of 28 days to three months. You can be held on police bail for up to a year before it is reviewed by a magistrate. The Act has unfortunately increased how long magistrates can keep you on bail, up to a further 12 months. If you breach the conditions you can now be held without charge for 27 hours (up from 24).
- New types of caution: Community and diversionary cautions replace the old type of police caution. GBC and ACAB say the main difference is that diversionary cautions will be:
given for more serious offences, and community cautions for less serious ones. If you break the former, you will be prosecuted for the offence at which point the caution ceases to have effect. If you break the community caution, there may be a financial penalty condition added which can be registered for enforcement as a fine if you don’t pay.
- Obstructing the highway: The maximum sentence has increased from a fine of £1000 to 6 months imprisonment. Those arrested for blocking roads can now be asked to give their fingerprints and biometric data. Its no longer a defence to say that the road you’re accused of blocking is already blocked, even if its blocked by police.
- Damaging monuments: In cases in which a public monument has been damaged – such as the toppling of the slave-trader Edward Colston in 2020 – defendants can be tried at the Crown Court, even when the damage done was minimal. This means people could, in theory, be given sentences of up to 10 years.
The Act makes some changes to how the police gather data on us too, namely:
- Fingerprints: If someone has been arrested for a recordable offence, they can be told to come back to the police station and provide fingerprints.
- Extracting information from devices: The Act allows the police to extract data from devices if one of the users of the device gives consent. In the cases of children, this can be the consent of a parent or guardian.
Keep on resisting
The authors of the guide make clear that the PCSC Act – although it is extremely oppressive – shouldn’t keep people from protesting. They say:
The law changes often; the reforms in this Act may be more notable than usual, but it doe
s not, as many have claimed, make ‘all protest illegal’ nor does it mean you’ll be imprisoned for 10 years for using a megaphone on a march or sharing a social media post. The main thing is to not panic.
Check out the five key messages from legal support groups for dealing with the police here.
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