Doctors in Unite have grave concerns about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021.
We believe that the measures proposed in the bill will erode civil liberties and severely undermine the right to protest, a cornerstone of UK democracy.
The Bill will give the Home Secretary:
“the power, through secondary legislation, to define and give examples of “serious disruption to the life of the community” and “serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried out in the vicinity of the procession/assembly/one-person protest”
“Serious disruption” is highly subjective and in our view is no basis on which to enforce the law.
Even now, before the proposed measures become law, there are regular examples of heavy-handed policing which very rarely result in prosecution or conviction of the officers involved. The disgraceful behaviour of the police during the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common on March 13th 2021 and the ten thousand pound fine handed to an NHS nurse for organising a perfectly safe socially distanced protest against the Governments 1% pay award to health workers both serve as a warning of things to come should this Bill pass successfully through Parliament.
The protest tactics of Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter have been cited as examples of serious disruption, despite the fact that these protests have been entirely peaceful.
Protest is often the only way that citizens are able to express themselves when those in power fail to listen. People are outraged at the government’s catastrophic failure over the pandemic, its slap-in-the-face 1% pay offer for nurses, its failure to address structural racism and its continued support for the fossil fuel industry. We could be forgiven for thinking that the government are seeking to restrict the right to protest to prevent an outpouring of anger onto the streets as the country begins to emerge from lockdown.
The disruption to people’s lives caused by the government’s failure to listen is much greater than the temporary disruption caused by a demonstration.
Restriction of the right to protest historically arises from increasingly authoritarian governments to quell public unrest, it has no place in a democratic society.
The outrageous jail sentences proposed, of up to ten years for toppling a statue, will disproportionately affect the rights of marginalised communities such as migrants to protest as they can be deported if given custodial sentences of more than one year. This Bill will effectively silence them.
This Bill must be defeated and the right to protest and freedom of speech preserved for today and for future generations.