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‘Draconian’ or Necessary? Politicians Comment on Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Published on: 27 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 27 Dec, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Local politicians have given a mixed reaction to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill going through its later stages in Parliament. But all opposition spokespersons are critical.

Some considered it  “draconian” when it was first introduced in March 2021 and it sparked protests in Guildford and nationally. It has since been amended to introduce further constraints on protesting.

Around 50 protesters gathered at Holy Trinity Church in the High Street for a ‘Kill The Bill’ march in May 2021. Those opposing the new bill say it is “stacked against demonstrators, the public, in favour of the police and enforcement agencies”.

See ‘Kill The Bill’, 100 Guildford Protesters March – MP Says Bill Will Stop Threats To Public Order

The government says the wide-ranging bill is intended “to protect the public by giving the police the tools needed to tackle crime and disorder”.

It includes longer sentences for serious criminals including for the pre-meditated murder of a child, making community sentences more effective, strengthening alternatives to custody for children including secure schools rather than prisons with education and modernising court processes.

Around 70 people on the town bridge protesting against sewage discharges into the rivers in October 2021. Objectors to the bill say, with the new bill, there could have been “several arrests”.

Controversially, the amended bill makes obstructing major transport works a new criminal offence, expands stop and search powers and provides a new power for police to ban named people from demonstrations.

Objectors to the bill say it “could easily be abused by authorities in the future to criminalise peaceful and legitimate protest”.

The Dragon asked the political parties for their views on the bill.

Protest against the possible closure of Guildford Lido in August 2020. Could such a protest be deemed illegal by the police?

Guildford MP Angela Richardson said: “The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a wide-ranging bill that seeks to address many concerns expressed by the public over criminal justice in recent years.

Angela Richardson MP

“These include enabling whole-life prison tariffs for child murderers, life sentences for drivers who kill behind the wheel and tougher penalties for people who damage memorials. All these things are an extension of powers to allow the judiciary greater scope – they are not mandatory.

“Section 3 of the bill gives the police powers that keep up with modern protest methods, allowing them to disperse protests that are specifically designed to cause public nuisance, such as people laying down in the middle of the M25. Ministers have been clear that peaceful protests of the kind that everyone has the right to initiate and attend are not affected – the bill draws a distinction between these and direct action designed to cause maximum public inconvenience.

“Again, I’d point out that the bill enables these powers – it does not compel them to be used. We have a long history in this country of trusting the police’s discretion in these matters and I hope that continues.”

Protesters campaigning against housing at the Ash Manor site, Ash Green in September 2021 included councillors and public figures.

Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Guildford, Zoe Franklin, said: “Parts of the bill are positive, such as the Police Covenant and changes to rules on disclosing criminal records to help with rehabilitation. However, new powers that:

  • Zoe Franklin

    Give police powers to impose conditions on protests that are noisy enough to cause “intimidation or harassment” or “serious unease, alarm or distress” to bystanders;

  • Broaden the offence of failing to comply with police conditions on a protest – you would no longer have to “knowingly” disobey a direction, but only “ought to have known” the condition had been imposed;

and others that curb the public’s right to protest are unnecessary, dangerous and draconian. These powers are so vaguely worded and open to interpretation, they could easily be abused by authorities in the future to criminalise peaceful and legitimate protest.

Amnesty protesting in Guildford High Street in 2007 were amongst the many protests in Guildford over the years which potentially could be deemed illegal.

“It’s clear to me that this bill is rooted in the Conservatives’ desire to avoid scrutiny and silence critics rather than being motivated by public interest. Local people will be rightly concerned to know that Guildford’s MP has supported it throughout its progress through Parliament.

“The right to protest is a fundamental human right and a crucial part of our democracy – the Liberal Democrats are fiercely resisting the bill.

Mark Bray-Parry of the Green Party

Spokesperson for the Green Party in Guildford, Mark Bray-Parry, said: “It may well be one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation to go through Parliament. It attacks an individual’s right to protest, allowing “protest materials” such as banners to be a basis for arrest, a situation which may have resulted with several arrests at the recent protest in Guildford against the release of raw sewage into the Wey despite the peaceful nature of that protest.

“Yet this bill does not just attack democracy through restricting an individual’s right to protest. Court closures, decimation of legal aid, and cuts to CPS leave the justice system in chaos. The PCSC bill will make this situation even worse, putting prosecutions at risk. Furthermore, the extension of stop and search powers shows the government’s willingness to ignore damning evidence of its discriminatory impact.

Animal rights activists in North Street protesting about cruelty to animals in December 2019. Under the new bill, protesters can be banned if they have previously committed “protest-related offences”.

“This bill is discriminatory, undermines the justice system, and is a direct attack on democracy. I implore Angela Richardson to vote against it.”

Sue Hackman

Guildford Labour Party secretary Sue Hackman, said: “The Labour Party supports the ancient rights of assembly and freedom of speech because they lie at the heart of democracy. If people cannot take to the streets, make a noise or get on a soapbox, then we leave our democracy in the hands of the media masters, Yes Men and spin doctors.

“It’s true that demonstrations are not always comfortable, not always convenient and not always in the forms we are accustomed to, but they do represent an authentic first-hand encounter with public opinion of which politicians should be respectful.

Guildford resident, Emma Clyde protesting in April 2021. She said the bill threatened the right to worship.

”Besides, the proposed bill is pretty poor as bills go, couched in general and reactionary language, giving too free a hand to the police to pounce on anything they interpret as disturbance, even noise levels.

“It is stacked against demonstrators, the public, in favour of the police and enforcement agencies.  The last few weeks have weakened public trust in politicians, democracy and the fair society.  This is not a good time to quash civil voices; rather, it is a time to listen to them even harder.”

Hugh Coakley is a member of Extinction Rebellion

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Responses to ‘Draconian’ or Necessary? Politicians Comment on Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

  1. Anna Deadman Reply

    December 27, 2021 at 6:46 pm

    The restrictions on protest are very concerning. If a protest is not noisy or in some way disruptive then it feels like it defeats the point of it. How else do people demonstrate their strong feelings for something when, often, we don’t feel listened to by politicians?

  2. Daniel Hill Reply

    December 27, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    It’s disturbing how both main parties have conspired to deny us of our civil liberties and destroy our democracy. And yet most people in this country have stood back and allowed this to happen without any fuss. This legislation will criminalise the right to protest and allows yet more unfair treatment of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.

    This insane legislation has ignored repeated calls from the police who reject Home Office proposals to criminalise unauthorised enforcements.

    A charity, Friends, Families and Travellers, found an overwhelming 93 per cent of police bodies called for better site provision both permanent and transit for Gypsies and Travellers as the solution to unauthorised encampments not criminalisation.

    It was the Green Party supported by Lib Dem’s who stood up for our human rights in the House of Lords. Their amendments lost by just one vote. We should never forget that when our civil liberties were trodden all over, when our democratic right to protest was stolen from us, when vulnerable minority groups were targeted and when our democracy was destroyed. Labour Lords were whipped to abstain.

  3. David Roberts Reply

    December 28, 2021 at 6:30 pm

    I thoroughly agree with all the criticisms Hugh Coakley reports of this trashy and illiberal bill. But is he writing this opinion piece as a Dragon reporter or in his XR capacity? Is he also a Green Party member or supporter? Did he seek the views of other, more important parties represented in Guildford’s local government?

    Editor’s Comment: All opinion and comment pieces published in The Dragon, where the author is putting forward their own opinion, are clearly labelled in the headline. This was not an opinion piece but a balanced report of the views held by local politicians about a national issue. Hugh Coakley was careful not to give his own view but, as in previous articles on certain topics, his membership of Extinction Rebellion was stated for the sake of openness and to allow readers to take it into account (he is not a member of the Green Party or any other political party). The views of only national party representatives were obtained because only they are represented in Parliament, where the vote will be held. Of course, all others, including local political parties, may submit their views for publication in the normal way.

  4. Mike Dent Reply

    December 29, 2021 at 6:43 am

    This bill is a major attack on democracy and it is no real surprise to me that Angela Richardson MP has backed it while all other local political parties are strongly opposed.

    The point about protest is for it to be noticed. With an impending cost of living catastrophe, this coming year, the Tories know that the time of major protest is coming, so in advance of that they are trying to silence the public with measures included in the bill.

    Angela Richardson is supporting the government but not the interests of her constituents.

    Mike Dent is a Lib Dem activist.

  5. Dave Middleton Reply

    December 30, 2021 at 4:49 pm

    Firstly, none of the protests mentioned in this article is likely to have been banned or resulted in arrests under the provisions of the proposed new laws. To suggest so is utter nonsense.

    The new laws are to deal with those protests that cause, or are likely to cause, serious disruption, such as the activities of the activists and supporters of Extinction Rebellion and its spin-off groups who, in exercising their right to protest for their cause, conveniently chose to ignore and deny the rights of others to go about their lawful daily lives, by blocking roads and bridges for extended periods in our towns and cities.

    These proposed new laws are a direct result of their actions and if anyone should be blamed for the imposition of so-called “draconian” laws it is them.

  6. M Smith Reply

    December 31, 2021 at 9:46 pm

    I welcome these new laws. Too many activists think that belief in a cause exempts them from their normal civil duty to behave decently and respect other people’s rights.

    I would defend the right to peaceful protest to the death, but when protesters try to stop me going about my lawful business or use threats or intimidation they should be arrested and prosecuted.

  7. David Roberts Reply

    January 4, 2022 at 11:52 am

    Thank you (editor) for the explanation: I now understand how the article was put together. If parliamentary voting power is what counts, however, it would be misleading to give an impression that the Greens matter. They have just one MP (out of 650) and two lords (out of 780). On the other hand, there are 67 sitting MPs and 268 lords that are not from the three big parties who will, I hope, vote this bill down.

  8. N Marley Reply

    January 4, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    I entirely agree with the comments made by Dave Middleton and M Smith, which stand out as a beacon of common sense amidst all the usual politically-motivated nonsense.

    I would add that the new laws will, at last, enable the police to deal effectively with the thugs and anarchists who so often hijack peaceful protests for the sole purpose of providing cover to commit acts of vandalism, incite violence and attack police.

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