Priti Patel’s new policing bill is threatening our right to protest

police protest priti patel
Support us and go ad-free

Today marks the second reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, which will increase police powers and allow them to clamp down on protests.

The bill, spearheaded by home secretary Priti Patel, had already met with criticism, but has come under renewed scrutiny in the wake of police actions at the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common.

During the gathering, police descended to break up the vigil, grabbing those present and arresting some. Their actions were widely criticised as “neither appropriate nor proportionate”.

After initially being rumoured to abstain, Labour announced it would vote against the bill as it returns to the House of Commons, saying it imposes “disproportionate controls on free expression”.

The bill

The government first announced the bill on 9 March. At that time, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office said it would “strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to Parliament”.

The legislation will amend the 1986 Public Order Act, making it much easier for the police to impose conditions on both marches and static protests. The 1986 Act limits when conditions can be placed on assemblies to protests that:

may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

But the new bill gives the police power to impose:

such conditions as appear to the officer necessary to prevent the disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation

The bill will give the police power to impose conditions on protests based on the amount of noise they make. This allows police to intervene in protests where “noise causes a significant impact on those in the vicinity or serious disruption to the running of an organisation”.

And the legislation also gives the home secretary the power, without parliamentary approval, to define “serious disruption” to communities. Police would then be able impose conditions using the definition.

Further amendments will make it easier for protestors to be convicted for not complying with conditions placed on protests, saying a person will be “guilty of an offence” if:

in the case of a public assembly in England and Wales, at the time the person fails to comply with the condition the person knows or ought to know that the condition has been imposed.

Crucially in this section is the loose wording “ought to know”. Under current legislation, the police have to prove that a person was aware of the conditions in order to secure a conviction.

Further powers

The bill also expands sentencing powers for several offences. Damaging memorials will lead to a maximum ten year sentence, and the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker, which includes police officers, will be doubled to two years.

Meanwhile, a new statutory offence of public nuisance will be created for actions causing:

serious harm to the public or a section of the public.

And the definition of “serious harm” includes actions that cause:

serious distress, serious annoyance, serious inconvenience or serious loss of amenity

Anyone convicted of this offence faces up to ten years in jail.

The police would also obtain further powers to remove “unauthorised encampments”, as well as criminalising trespass and expanding stop-and-search powers.

One-person protests and protests near parliament that obstruct vehicle access could also be limited under the new laws.


Several civil rights groups have already spoken out against the bill. Gracie Bradley, Liberty director, said it would threaten protests, and put marginalised communities at risk through the expansion of stop and search powers and criminalising trespass. She said:

parts of this Bill will facilitate discrimination and undermine protest, which is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. We should all be able to stand up for what we believe in, yet these proposals would give the police yet more powers to clamp down on protest. They risk stifling dissent and making it harder for us to hold the powerful to account.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said:

The apparent excessive use of force by Met police officers is a stark and timely warning about precisely why Parliament must not allow yet more police powers to quash peaceful protest.

The proposals being rushed through put enormous and unprecedented powers in the hands of the state to effectively ban even peaceful protests. If that happens, scenes like those this weekend will become more common.

Kevin Blowe, campaigns coordinator for the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), told The Canary:

It is important we don’t forget that decades of criminal justice legislation had already created dozens of new offences and broad new powers that inevitably have since been reinterpreted and abused. As well as opposing this new bill, we need to start demanding a fundamental change in the policing of protests in Britain. This is why we today launched a new Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights. We are demanding police respect existing international human rights standards – or explain why they refuse to do so.

Netpol’s petition for the National Police Chiefs Council to adopt a charter protecting the right to protest has already gained over 115,000 signatures.

Police and protests

Priti Patel has condemned protestors from Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion previously and called for extended police powers to intervene in these protests.

Many were shocked by the police’s intervention at the vigil for Sarah Everard, though as many others have pointed out, police have intervened disproportionately in protests before.

A report by Netpol found that police used excessive force and disproportionately targeted Black protestors during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Netpol further concluded that protests led by Black people “disproportionately faced excessive interventions” from the police.

This bill will erode the right to protest in the UK, making it harder to stand up to power even through non-violent protests. It will encourage the behaviour displayed by the police at the weekend and at recent protests for racial justice and environmental action. It is therefore imperative that we all take action to ensure it isn’t passed and to ensure that we all have the right to protest.

Featured image via Flickr/Andy Thornley & YouTube/Guardian News

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us