The UK government is attempting to warrant flagship legislation that critics say would hand the police and ministers powers which could seriously curb the ability of citizens to protest, in a extremely tough time.
Uncomfortably for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the law has been debated in Parliament this week, just days after officers from London’s Metropolitan Police physically controlled attendees in a peaceful demonstration mourning the passing of a young woman, Sarah Everard. Disturbing pictures of police forcing women to the ground have led to public outrage. The man accused of murdering Everard is a serving member of the exact same police force.
Tuesday will be the next day of its second reading at the House of Commons.
At the very peak of a fact sheet for the invoice on the administration’s website, Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, is quoted as stating that since the Extinction Rebellion climate shift protests at London, police forces have had”change to forces and to laws that would enable the police to deal better with protests” that”aren’t primarily violent or severely disorderly,” but”had an avowed aim to attract policing to its knees and the town to a halt.”
The bill proposes new conditions on”one-person protests,” which would enable police to finish the demonstration of one individual if the”sound created by the person carrying on the protest may lead to serious disruption to the activities of an organisation that are carried on in the neighborhood of the protest.” In theory, could imply somebody protesting outside the headquarters of a private company could be moved combined if their protest disrupts the activity of that private company.
The bill also indicates in somewhat vague language, that demonstrations and protests should not”intentionally” or”recklessly” trigger”public nuisance.” But the bill says, might include an act which”destroys the public or a part of the public in the exercise or enjoyment of a right that may be exercised or enjoyed by the public at large.”
The ambiguity of the invoice has sounded alarm bells for critics, which range from human rights attorneys to lawmakers.
“The forces in this bill might have been employed contrary to the suffragettes. “We’d be living in a very different society when the suffragettes had not been in a position to protest.”
Another controversial feature of the bill has been the focus on topics that could be regarded as part of the UK’s continuing culture wars. In a section covering damage of land or property, it makes specific mention of”monuments” in a clear reference to a public spat over figurines of colonialists being damaged through last summer’s BLM protests.
Climate activists protest outside the Supreme Court, during the eleventh day of demonstrations from the climate change action group Extinction Rebellion, in London, on October 17, 2019.
Steve Peers, professor of human rights legislation at the University of Essex, fears that handing police more powers to cancel certain demonstrations and only out particular kinds of behaviour could”easily risk delegitimizing an issue being protested against with the authorities seemingly coming down clearly on either side of a problem.” Peers adds that the UK’s sudden cracking down on protests and free speech appears quite odd in the context of the government’s criticism of China’s behavior in Hong Kong.
The specific inclusion of monuments has caused many to point out a notable exception from this tremendous piece of legislation which touches so many regions of law. At no point in the invoice perform the words”girls” or”woman” seem.
This is particularly unfortunate, given a lot of the UK has been grieving the disappearance and death of a female in London. Her remains were found almost two weeks later. Everard’s departure has prompted a broader public conversation concerning the violence, harassment and intimidation that women face, including in the hands of authorities.
On Saturday, thousands of people gathered near where she’d gone missing, both to grieve and emphasize the treatment of women. As the calm demonstration extended to the night, arguments broke out with police, who were demanding that attendees distribute as a result of coronavirus restrictions. Things then turned really ugly, as officials were filmed and photographed physically yanking people away and into police vans.
The timing, so, of a wide-ranging invoice that makes greater criminals of people who deface statues of slave owners but makes no reference of gender-based violence could hardly be worse.
Downing Street referred CNN’s listing of questions regarding the invoice into the Home Office, which declined to react.
Police officers form a cordon at the Everard vigil in London on March 13.
Naturally, the authorities didn’t know that events would collide in such a manner. But, legitimate questions could be asked as to why this type of comprehensive bill failed to cite such widespread issues.
“The government obviously thought it was playing smart politics by creating the bill so huge it could comprise their culture war points about figurines but also stuff about becoming tougher on child abusers. “Instead, they’ve written a bill that tells women more about the way they may not protest violence against girls than how we are shielded from that violence.”
On Monday evening, the government seemed to acknowledge that it had an issue when it announced new measures to keep women secure that would involve greater CCTV surveillance and undercover police in bars and nights clubs. The announcement, however, appeared somewhat tone deaf, given the current levels of anger at the police and a recent scandal in which undercover officers abused their positions to this extent they’d long-term sexual relationships with women under false identities.
The invoice, the scenes in the weekend and also the problems that the UK is dealing with are extremely unedifying for the country. On the flip side, the bill implies that the authorities and police are responding to criticism using a power grab.
“The tabling of this bill does seem to support the idea that people in authority are struggling to proportionately respond to protests that directly challenge their image as protectors of society. Both Black Lives Issue along with the demonstration in the weekend directly condemn the authorities. We know from a range of academic study people respond violently when their self-image is jeopardized and they seek to recover control,” said Francis Dodsworth, senior lecturer in criminology at Kingston University.
On the other, the government claims it is only hoping to upgrade laws so as to permit contemporary demonstrations to take place safely. They point to how a distinct piece of legislation specifically considering violence against women and girls has been worked on.
Regardless of intentions, the truth is that the UK government is presently placing before parliament a piece of big legislation that says more about a criminal who defaces a statue in relation to assaults a woman. That, given the very raw emotions and branches in the nation at the moment, will increase very important questions if amendments are overturned and Prime Minister Boris Johnson proceeds, with little reason, to press these laws to be passed sooner rather than later.
As Philips put it:”There’s absolutely no need to rush this through now. And this sends a clear message: statues of dead guys thing more in Britain than alive women.”