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14 September 2021

Protest and power: is Priti Patel’s police bill a threat to civil liberties?

Critics say the controversial bill undermines vital democratic and human rights.

By Phil Clarke Hill and Rachel Cunliffe

With critics as disparate as Theresa May, David Blunkett and Friends of the Earth, what will the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill – which aims to criminalise certain types of protest and trespass – mean for our way of life?

Its 300 pages cover violent crime, criminal sentencing, sexual offences, road traffic and public order. An open letter signed by over 350 organisations and peers and presented to the House of Lords suggested it will harm the rights of protesters and those wanting to access the countryside, with a particular threat to the gypsy and traveller communities. The letter also indicated the bill was being “rushed through parliament during a pandemic and before civil society and the public have been able to fully understand its profound implications”.

In this documentary, the New Statesman investigates the implications of sections three and four of the bill (“Public Order” and “Unauthorised Encampments”), which its critics say will give the police “powers to decide where, when and how citizens are allowed to protest” and “create a new trespass offence that criminalises the way of life of nomadic gypsy and traveller communities”.

“It doesn’t matter how big or how small your protest is, these new measures such as noise, inconvenience, serious annoyance – any protest can fall under that,” warns Emmanuelle Andrews, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty.

In response, the Home Office sent the New Statesman a statement that said: “The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in no way changes the fundamental place that protest has in our democracy. But we cannot allow highly disruptive demonstrations, which often trample over the rights of others, to go unchallenged.”

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