Campaigners, MPs, and peers have written to home secretary Priti Patel. They’re calling for changes to coronavirus (Covid-19) legislation to allow for protests to take place during lockdown.
Protecting the right to protest
The letter was organised by Liberty and Big Brother Watch. It calls on the home secretary to provide guidance for police on how to facilitate protests during the pandemic. And it also asks for clarity around laws on the right to protest. The letter emphasises that protest is a human right.
This comes ahead of further “Kill the Bill” protests to challenge the government’s draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The protests are due to take place nationwide on 20 and 21 March.
MPs from various parties have signed the letter. However, Network for Police Monitoring co-ordinator Kevin Blowe highlighted that the Tory MPs who signed the letter previously voted for the bill which proposes to “clamp down on protest“:
Note: the Tory MPs who signed the letter – Baker, Chope, Fuller, Green and Mitchell – all voted for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. https://t.co/HOLcwdCyF8
— Kevin (Aggravated Activist) Blowe 🏴 (@copwatcher) March 20, 2021
Earlier in March, campaigners tried to secure exemption from lockdown legislation to attend a vigil commemorating Sarah Everard. The judgement handed down suggested “that the human rights of expression and gathering might be considered reasonable excuses in some circumstances”. But police still proceeded to harass and arrest vigil attendees.
Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said:
The harrowing scenes of police officers using force against women at Clapham Common recently were avoidable and wrong. Over the past week, many more demonstrators and even legal observers have been arrested or fined. This stain on our democracy is a direct consequence of this government’s disrespect for the most basic of British democratic freedoms.
Sam Grant from Liberty added:
Last week, the police conceded protest is not banned under the lockdown regulations, but used them to threaten then arrest demonstrators anyway. The home secretary must immediately issue guidance to all police forces to ensure socially distanced protests can go ahead and create an explicit exemption for protest in the current regulations.
Doughty Street Chambers barrister Adam Wagner highlighted – as set out in the judicial review – that any police force with a blanket ban on all protest would be acting unlawfully:
Mr Justice Holgate's judgment in the @ReclaimTS Judicial Review interim hearing from last Friday has been published.
Paragraph 24 is key and couldn't be clearer.
— Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1) March 19, 2021
This is Wiltshire's Chief Constable, not knowing that the clear duty to facilitate protests has not been suspended or that Mr Justice Holgate's judgment in the @ReclaimTS case says any police force with a policy that bans all protest would be acting unlawfully (h/t @Carrie_e_b) https://t.co/8ER6BKbLJi pic.twitter.com/ovRsvKlIiS
— Netpol (@netpol) March 20, 2021
Lack of clarity
The letter to the home secretary states:
The absence of clear guidance on these issues has created an entirely unsatisfactory situation, which has persisted to varying degrees for almost a year now. The police have no legal certainty as to their duties and powers, protestors have no legal certainty as to their rights, and there is inconsistent application of the Regulations across the country. This cannot continue.
Netpol suggested that the confusion created by “state-of-emergency laws and enforcement” is “a very effective way of making people fearful about exercising” their rights:
It is underappreciated how state-of-emergency laws and enforcement is intended to create uncertainty about our rights: it's a very effective way of making people fearful about exercising them.
This is also true of continually introducing more and new public order laws
— Netpol (@netpol) March 20, 2021
The Home Office responded to the joint letter, saying:
While we are still in a pandemic we continue to urge people to avoid mass gatherings, in line with wider coronavirus restrictions.
The Home Office also confirmed that stay at home regulations will remain in place until 29 March.
Featured image via Double Down News/YouTube
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