The bill, picked up by Suila Braverman of Priti Patel, is back in Parliament
The controversial public order bill that would include powers to enforce protest bans has been dubbed “extremely draconian” and “frightening.” Human rights groups said the law would put anti-protest laws on a par with those in Russia and Belarus.
The bill was approved in Westminster during its third reading in the House of Commons by 276 votes to 231. But what new powers would the bill bring, is it really as bad as Belarus and Russia, and what stage in Parliament? ? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the public order bill?
The Home Office says the purpose of the bill is: “to give police the tools they need to deal with the very dangerous and destructive tactics, used by a small minority of protesters.”
Former Home Secretary Soyla Braverman said when the bill was recently debated in the House of Commons: “It is the Guardian reading, eating tofu and kerati, I dare say, the anti-growth coalition we have to thank for the turmoil we see on our roads today.”
What powers will the bill bring?
Groups such as Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil used stabilization methods to cause disruption. Under the bill, this is an offense – it would make the following against the law:
- Lock, or go equipped with a lock – a method of protest where people attach themselves to buildings or objects
- Obstruction of major transportation business, eg HS2
- Interference with national infrastructure such as railways, airports, oil and gas and printing presses
The penalties for committing the offenses are a maximum of six months imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both for shutting down and obstructing the transportation business. Whereas, interference with national infrastructure may be punished with imprisonment of up to 12 months, an unlimited fine, or both.
The bill also proposes extending the use of stop-and-search powers by the police to allow officers to search for items that could be used for “protest-related offences”.
It will also introduce mass interruption orders – a form of injunction, pursued in the “public interest” where protests cause or threaten “serious disruption or a serious negative impact on public safety”.
Those who have been convicted on two previous occasions of offenses related to the protest, or if on two previous occasions they caused “serious disturbance”, will be charged without a conviction.
The orders would give courts the ability to impose conditions such as preventing a person from being in a certain place with certain people or using the Internet to encourage others to carry out “protest-related offences.”
He could also see anyone subject to such orders having to wear an electronic tag. A breach of an SDPO is punishable by six months in prison or an unlimited fine — or both.
In addition to having conditions imposed on them, persons subject to orders will also have notification requirements which means having to stay in contact with the person or body overseeing the order, as well as having to notify if they change their home address.
Why has the bill proven controversial?
Human rights groups, unions, and politicians have expressed concerns about the bill. Human rights groups in particular have criticized the planned actions in connection with the protest. There was also concern about plans to extend the powers of suspension and search.
Among those who spoke out against the bill was Liberty, which she described as “too harsh” and said it would have a “terrifying” effect on the right to protest.
“Protest is a fundamental right, not a gift from the state,” said John Pang, Liberty Policy and Campaigns Officer. “But that right continues to be attacked by a government bent on making it difficult for all of us to stand up for what they believe in. And with the ink on the law not drying up Maintaining security yet, the government continues to impose more stringent measures to restrict what they believe in. Our ability to protest.”
Protest ban orders would greatly expand the monitoring and punishment of protesters, even those who have never been convicted of a crime. We are also deeply concerned about the effects of new stop and search powers, creating new crimes that will further entrench discrimination and make it unsafe for people from marginalized communities to defend their rights.
“Public order law will have a chilling effect on the right to protest, criminalizing anyone who tries to be heard. In a functioning democracy, everyone must be able to stand up to power. We must fight to defend our right to protest.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty has spoken out against it and urged MPs to oppose it. Briefly, she said that the banning orders “go further” in terms of prohibiting the organization and participation of the protest compared to the law on gatherings in Russia and the measures taken in Belarus.
The briefing paper also said: “Amnesty International’s assessment is that the General Budget Bill will leave the UK in violation of international human rights law.”
It also raised concerns about other parts of the bill, including the extension of stop-and-search powers, saying it “is likely to lead to police discriminatory practices against already marginalized and hyperactive groups”.
What are the procedures in Russia and Belarus?
In Russia, if the gathering has more than one participant, they must notify the authorities. It can be prohibited by the authorities if it is to be carried out near bridges, railways, pipelines, high voltage electric power lines, prisons, courts, presidential residences, or in a border control area. The right to assemble near cultural and historical monuments may also be restricted.
In 2012 legislation was passed increasing the fine for organizing silent demonstrations and banning protesters from wearing masks and carrying weapons. In addition, rallies cannot be organized by anyone who violates public peace and security or has been subjected to administrative sanctions for mass violations two or more times within a year.
Two years later, the law was changed again meaning that organizing a demonstration without permission from the authorities, even in a peaceful individual sit-in, is punishable by a fine or up to 15 days’ imprisonment, or up to five years in prison if it is the third breach.
Belarus has strict laws against protesting. Last year, the country passed a new law meaning that anyone who has been detained at least twice for participating in an “unauthorized” protest, or for insulting a government official, faces up to three years in prison, while previously facing detention and fines.
This came after large-scale mass demonstrations after the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in 2020. In an attempt to quell protests, thousands of people were arrested by security forces.
What is the stage of the public order bill in Parliament?
The bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons on October 18. However, it must pass through the House of Lords before it becomes law.
The first reading in the House of Lords was the next day, while the second reading was on 1 November. This will give members the first opportunity to discuss the principles and purpose of the bill and to highlight any concerns or areas in which they believe amendments are needed.