Having caused great controversy, the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ has been hailed by some as a necessary step and criticised by others as a drift towards authoritarianism. Ada Ughanwa runs through the argument in more detail.
The Crime bill emerged following the Metropolitan police crackdown at the vigil held on the 13th of March to commemorate the life of Sarah Everard, a woman found dead and suspected to have been murdered by a police officer. Police dispersed the crowds that had gathered as they were breaching lockdown rules, but the crowds responded violently to their actions which led to violent clashes and several arrests on the night.
After witnessing the violence endured by the Metropolitan police, MPs gathered together on the 16th March and voted for The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Although the bill sparked controversy on both sides of the house, it still managed to receive 359 votes to 263 votes.
The 300 page legislation proposes tougher measures on crime and also includes tighter restrictions on political protests.
The bill itself has now passed to the committee stage and if it passes as law it could threaten peoples’ rights to protest in peace and give police powers to disrupt ‘non-violent’ protests or those that have access to parliament. Additionally, it includes an offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing a public nuisance as well as extended powers including time and noise limits”. The bill could criminalise protesters if they fail to follow restrictions that they “ought” to have known about, even if they have not received a direct order from an officer. Another dire aspect of the bill is the fine of up to £2,500 given by the police if protesters refuse to follow their orders.
The controversy in the bill regarding protests has sparked anger across the nation and has led to widespread protests against the bill. ‘Kill the Bill’ protests first emerged in Bristol City Centre on the 21st March and it rallied over 3,000 protesters. The police decided to clamp down on the protesters which resulted in altercations and violence breaking out amongst them in crowds. Several police officers were injured (although the extent of their injuries was later found out to have been a lie, intentional or otherwise), police vans were set alight and a police station was stoned. Since then, people in Bristol have held other protests on the 23rd and the 26th March which also ended in violence. They did however hold a peaceful protest on the 30th March and on the 3rd April.
Bristol has held five protests since the announcement of the Bill and other cities and towns have joined their outcry to protest against the bill. These protests varied in scale but were held in towns and cities including London Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Brighton, Weymouth and Luton, and Cardiff.
Behind Bristol, residents of London have also held protests since the Bill’s announcement in March and unfortunately, the protests held in London have also been violent – leading to over 100 arrests at their march on the 3rd April. Marches in both Bristol and London have mainly broken out in violence so the minority who engaged in violence are undermining the purpose of the march.
The Government has supported the bill suggesting that better measures are needed to manage modern-day protests and to avoid organised protests such as Extinction Rebellion, who ground London to a halt in 2019 by gluing themselves to trains, towing large boats onto busy roads full of traffic, and laying on roads.
The bill has been criticised by opponents for not clearly defining concepts such as ‘intentionally or recklessly causing a public nuisance’ as well as it being a step towards authoritarianism. It has also been criticised for not focusing on female violence and not delivering justice for Sarah Everard.
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Article edited by Connor Wade – Politics Editor