What is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill? And what do Northampton's leaders from both parties think about it?

"There's a lot of vagueness around it. What's 'seriously annoying' to you might not be 'seriously annoying' to me."

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 9:25 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 9:26 am

New laws which could change how Northampton and UK residents protest are making their way through parliament.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a huge document which includes plans on changing the way crime and justice is handled in England and Wales.

What would the new bill change?

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Home Secretary Priti Patel

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has proved extremely controversial, with protests against it taking place around the country.

Under current laws, police are only able to place restrictions on protests if there is a threat of “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to life in the community”.

However, under the new policing bill, police chiefs would be able to set noise limits and impose a start and finish time on protests - these rules would also be applicable to a protest of a single person.

Those who fail to act in accordance with police rules could be issued a £2,500 fine, and police will be able to issue punishments to those who “ought” to have known about restrictions, rather than needing to prove that protesters knew.

The bill would also introduce the crime of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance” with the intention of preventing protest tactics of occupying public spaces.

Following the summer Black Lives Matter protests which saw protesters topple the statue of slave owner Edward Colson, the new maximum punishment for damage to memorials would be increased to a ten year prison sentence.

The bill also proposes a number of other measures, such as introducing life sentenced for killer drivers and allowing profoundly deaf people to sit on juries for the first time by allowing a British sign language interpreter into the jury deliberation room.

If the police want to place restrictions on a protest, they generally have to show it may result in "serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community".

What did Northampton's Conservative MPs, who all voted in favour of it, say about the bill?

Northampton North MP, Michael Ellis, Northampton South MP, Andrew Lewer, South Northamptonshire MP, Andrea Leadsom, all voted in favour of the bill along with 358 other Conservative MPs.

They were all asked: what are your thoughts on the right to protest? Is this bill a threat to a functioning democracy? More than 150 organisations have warned ministers that a new law handing police tougher powers to crack down on protesters would be “an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens” - what would you say to this?

Andrew Lewer said: “I am in favour of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is currently making its way through Parliament. The legislation around the areas of police powers and sentencing need to be updated and in certain areas toughened up to meet current challenges.

"Last summer Extinction Rebellion stopped the printing of some national newspapers, a direct attack on our freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

"They also caused massive disruption in London, by blocking roads and attempting to shut down the city. They blocked ambulances getting to hospital and defaced statues and war memorials. This was unacceptable and this bill seeks to redress these tactics and bring the people responsible to account.

"Peaceful protests are still protected, a cornerstone of a free society and I am happy that we have the right balance in this bill to protect civil liberties and human rights, yet deploy proportionate powers to hold those to account who are intent on violence and criminal damage."

Andrea Leadsom said: “The bill will give greater protections to people, and does not curtail the right to peaceful protest.”

Michael Ellis has been contacted for comment but has not yet responded.

Criticism

Northampton's Labour Group Leader, Councillor Danielle Stone, said: "I'm outraged by it. I think it's anti-democratic. It's not what is required. We have enough laws in place already to deal with anti-social behaviour and criminal behaviour, we don't need anymore.

"We do need to allow people to protest and make their voices heard when they have an interest to pursue or when they see something going seriously wrong. I think what happened at the Sarah Everard vigil was an absolute disgrace of policing. We need to learn to do things better than that."

The Labour and co-operative candidate for Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Claire Pavitt, said: "The scenes last night should never be scenes we should ever see at all. I find it very distressing that people attacking police officers in particular. That's not a protest, that is just being harmful and disruptive.

"These are not people protesting to protect their rights, they are wanting to cause trouble. I don't think these measures in this bill will stop those who want to make trouble. I think what this bill does is try to quieten the voice and effect of the human rights of people who actually want to protest and protect their rights.

"There's a lot of vagueness around it. What's 'seriously annoying' to you might not be 'seriously annoying' to me. We can't be moving forward with a bill which is trying to dampen our right to protest.

"Obviously it's not impinging our right to protest to protect our rights and I know many people throughout UK history have protested by chaining themselves to railings and in these ways.

"If I am really honest, the thing is, people take extreme actions, like Extinction Rebellion, like The Sufragettes, because they were not being listened to.

"Like I said, the scenes in Bristol last night, my heart goes out to them. That's not acceptable."

Extinction Rebellion Northampton has been contacted for comment.