published: June 2022
The right to protest is a fundamental cornerstone of any democratic society. Protests can be uncomfortable, particularly for those who disagree with them.
However, as the Government notes, “freedom of expression is a unique and precious liberty on which the UK has historically placed great emphasis in our traditions of Parliamentary privilege, freedom of the press and free speech”. Any unease must therefore be tolerated.
On 15 November 2021, the Government introduced over 18 pages of late-stage amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, for which JUSTICE also prepared briefings. The House of Lords rejected all but one of these amendments, which would have allowed the Government to criminalise a breathtakingly wide range of peaceful behaviour, including that with only the most tangential connection to protests.
These amendments now return in the Public Order Bill, which would enhance an already problematic range of restrictions which can be imposed on individuals who take part in protests to express grievances and raise concerns pursuant to the PCSC Act. The Bill is unlikely to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular Article 10 ECHR (freedom of expression) and Article 11 ECHR (freedom of assembly and association).