In this first of three interviews with Kevin Blowe from the Network for Police Monitoring, he guides us through the current restrictions on protest, the new powers available to police, and what’s coming down the line.
When the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill was going through parliament, there was a lot of fuss about the restrictions on noisy protest, and the change to wording so that people could be prosecuted who “ought to have known” (rather than knew) about police conditions on protests. A year on, and the reality is that police have kept both those powers in the back-pocket – not a single prosecution in that time.
Instead, it’s become clear that the new power for the Home Secretary to ‘define’ serious disruption, along with the introduction of powers around the serious offence of ‘Public Nuisance’ are the main cause for concern. Together, these give police enormous scope to restrict protest, because if they deem that you are doing anything more than causing a ‘minor hindrance’, you immediately jump to causing ‘serious disruption’, and it’s their call where that line lies.
The political pressure to clamp down on certain types of protest such as lock-ons disrupting a weapons manufacturer or oil facility, will class these as serious disruption, while a huge trades union march through a city centre will be tolerated, even if it affects far greater numbers of the public. It’s all political.
Netpol point out that police are likely using facial recognition and heightened surveillance to build cases for Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (part of this year’s Public Order Act) against certain individuals, such as known protest organisers. They will face severe restrictions on their rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech when those orders prevent them from attending certain events, associating with other protesters, or even communicating on the internet.
One power that has not yet been introduced is ‘Suspicionless Stop and Search’. Kevin thinks there’s a chance it may be signed into force just before the upcoming DSEI Arms Fair at the Excel Centre in London, as it gives the police the power to search anyone within a designated area for items that could be used to obstruct the highway, lock-on, glue or damage etc.
In Part Two of this in-depth interview, coming soon, Kevin talks about the recent rulings that have fundamentally affected court trials in the UK, and Part Three will be more info regarding the DSEI arms fair.