The right to lawful protest and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

In the words of Harold Wilson, “a week is a long time in politics”, and the pace of this political week is such that the outcome of the House of Lords’ consideration of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (the “Bill”) may perhaps not have been given as much media attention as might have been the case, were it not for broader matters.

As a reminder, the Bill was introduced by the Government in the Queen’s Speech in May last year (as is the normal process) with the objective to "increase sentences for the most serious and violent offenders and [to] ensure the timely administration of justice".  It is substantial, both in scale of proposed reform across what now stands at 342 pages and the response it has drawn on a variety of its subject areas, including in relation to the changes in law it would bring regarding the right to lawful protest.  That right has, of course, been tested relatively intensively over the last year in a range of high profile protests, culminating in some 18 pages of amendments to the Bill being introduced by the Government in November, on the same day as nine members of the “Insulate Britain” protests appeared in court charged with contempt.

In line with the usual Parliamentary process, the Bill (including those amendments) was considered by the Lords at the “report stage” on Monday and a range of elements were ultimately voted against.  In the case of amendments introduced only at the House of Lords stage (ie the November amendments), those voted against by the Lords fell entirely as a point of constitutional process and can now only be introduced by the Government as a fresh Bill. This includes criminalising protesters who “lock on” to street furniture or obstruct major transport works / national infrastructures and the ability of the courts to ban people with a history of causing serious disruption from attending protests.

However, the remainder of the Bill will now proceed back to the Commons for further consideration.  The Bill as it survives includes various provisions relating to protests, including the ability of the police to impose conditions on protests, and strengthening the criminal offences relating to damage to memorials and other statues, but will need to be completed by the end of this Parliamentary session in Spring to proceed to become law.

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