This week the government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was passed in Parliament. It’s referred to sometimes as just the ‘Police Bill’, and has caused some controversy around the country due to its impact on the right to protest. Currently, the bill is delayed until later in the year, but it has not gone away completely. Here, we explain what’s in the bill and what it means for your rights.
First of all, what’s in the bill?
Made up of a total range of measures, this piece of provisional legislation is a mixed bag.
It includes doubling the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker – such as a police officer or paramedic – to two years.
The maximum penalty for criminal damage to a memorial, such as statues, will be increased from three months to ten years.
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Premeditated child murder will permit judges to hand down Whole Life Orders. Judges will also be given permission to sentence 18 to 20-year-olds for life in exceptional cases. Such cases include acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life.
The automatic release of offenders convicted of serious and violent sexual offences halfway through a sentence will be stopped.
It may seem puzzling why this bill is so controversial, but that’s where the protest element comes in.
So, what does the bill mean for protesting?
Essentially, the proposals in the bill will give police significantly more powers to crack down on protests. This includes tackling “non-violent” protests which are deemed to be disruptive to the public, or on access to Parliament.
Police can also curb protests if they are “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”, as well as causing serious harm to the public. Serious harm, however, can mean “serious annoyance, serious inconvenience or serious loss of amenity”. Many critics argue that the entire reason for protest is to be a public annoyance and inconvenience in the first place.
Given the behaviour of the Met Police at the Clapham Common vigil for murdered marketing executive Sarah Everard, many are concerned that giving the police even more power is dangerous for our civil liberties.
What are the reactions to the bill?
The Labour Party has labelled the bill a “mess” that does more to protect statues than women and girls.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that there was a “gaping hole” in the legislation and that it “doesn’t address the fact that sentencing for rape and stalking is too low”.
Even former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May warned that the bill has “potential unintended consequences”. She later voted in favour of it, however.
Amanda Milling, co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party, said in response to the criticism: “This Conservative government is working to keep people safe by reforming our justice system to keep our communities safe so that everyone can live their lives free from the fear of crime.”
This is all in light of massive protests in London from the activist group Sisters Uncut. They are responding to the murder of Sarah Everard and all other violence against women and girls in the UK. Sisters Uncut’s “kill the bill” chants have become so powerful that the next steps for this piece of legislation have been disrupted.
What happens next?
Well, it’s important to know that just because the bill has passed in Parliament firstly does not make it law.
It was supposed to go to a committee who would scrutinise the bill line by line, pointing out any flaws or improvements that should be made before it is enshrined in law. However, according to Labour MP Peter Kyle, who was supposed to be scrutinising the bill, the committee has been pulled and won’t begin until later in the year.