Just two days after the peaceful women’s vigil in Clapham Common was broken up by police using Coronavirus regulations, the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill is having its second reading in the House of Commons this week.
Our film of a socially-distanced protest during the afternoon in Parliament Square yesterday shows police using PRASRA legislation to stop a young woman from having a voice. PRASRA was passed in 2011 after a long and ultimately successful activist battle against a previous law, SOCPA, which sought to control protest near Parliament and was specifically aimed at the lone anti-war protester Brian Haw who resided on Parliament Square for more than a decade. Watch our SOCPA film trailer here, and please consider donating to Real Media to see the whole film.
Over the past year, police have routinely closed down protests under the guise of health concerns. Real Media reported on the first large Black Lives Matter protest in London, showing how police claimed to be concerned about the spread of the virus, but used threats of CoVid fines to force socially-distanced people off a road junction and onto a tightly crowded pavement.
Police intervention has often made health risks worse, as we saw at the weekend in Clapham Common, and as Real Media reported at this Kurdish gathering a few weeks ago.
Over the past year police officers have grown used to disregarding the Human Rights Act in their application of Coronavirus regulations, and the concern with the current bill is that as we come out of lockdown, a new set of excuses to prevent free assembly and free speech will be applied in order to continue and consolidate this process.
The proposed laws also continue a deeply undemocratic trend which has been used on an industrial scale around Coronavirus regulations – allowing the Home Secretary to have enormous power through signing ‘statutory instruments’ often without proper parliamentary scrutiny. There are loads of these opportunities written into the new bill, giving a present or future minister the authority to define what sorts of protest are allowed, alter definitions of ‘disruption’ and ‘impact’, apply existing localised restrictions to whole new areas, and so on.
The majority of our Members of Parliament are not lawyers, and the implications of many of these ‘regulation’ clauses will be completely overlooked amongst the more than 300 pages of legalese which makes up this document. So instead they rely on bullet point explanations and ministerial assurances, without realising the extent of the power grab and the hard-won rights we will be giving up.