Campaigners attack government over ‘draconian’ bill that curbs protests

People holding placards outside New Scotland Yard in London, the day after clashes between police an

People holding placards outside New Scotland Yard in London, the day after clashes between police and crowds who gathered on Clapham Common on Saturday night to remember Sarah Everard - Credit: PA

Organisations including the RSPB, Liberty and Friends of the Earth have written to Priti Patel and Robert Buckland to raise concerns about “draconian” legislation to boost police powers.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being “rushed through parliament” during the coronavirus pandemic and will have “profound implications” for the public, the groups said.

Nearly 250 groups signed the letter, warning that there had been too little time to properly scrutinise the legislation, which was being considered by MPs on Monday.

The letter sent to the home secretary and justice secretary said: “Not only does this Bill contain numerous threats to the right to peaceful protest and access to the countryside, criminalise gypsy and traveller communities’ way of life, as well as a whole host of expansive policing powers, but it is being rushed through parliament during a pandemic and before civil society and the public have been able to fully understand its profound implications.”

The letter called for a fundamental rethink of the approach being taken by ministers.

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It said the Bill “represents an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens, in particular those from marginalised communities, and is being driven through at a time and in a way where those who will be subject to its provisions are least able to respond”.

The letter was organised by Liberty and Friends of the Earth.

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Liberty’s Gracie Bradley said: “Protest isn’t a gift from the state – it’s our fundamental right and under human rights law.

“States have an obligation to facilitate protest not suppress it. Yet this is what this Bill seeks to achieve.”

Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said: “Protest is the lifeblood of democracy and our environment is better for it.

“Time and time again peaceful protest has been central to positive changes, making our lives healthier, defending communities and protecting the planet.

“This Bill threatens to seriously undermine a fundamental part of democracy and takes away the rights of marginalised communities, and any citizen, to have their voice heard and hold the powerful to account.”

MORE: Labour confirms vote against No 10's 'poorly thought out' policing bill

The legislation plans to give police more powers to tackle non-violent protests which cause significant disruption to the public.

It also creates a new offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”.

The wide-ranging Bill includes plans to bring in tougher sentences for child killers and those who cause death on the roads, longer jail terms for serious violent and sexual offenders, and expand child sex abuse laws to ban religious leaders and sports coaches from having sex with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care.

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