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Fears over right to protest under PCSC Bill

19 March 2021

Fears have been raised about the impacts of sweeping changes to rights to protest in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, which had its second reading in Parliament this week. The PCSC Bill seeks to make the first major changes to the Public Order Act 1986 since 2003.

Disabled campaigners fear it will remove the rights for people to undertake direct action – one of the main forms of protest which resulted in transport finally being made accessible, as Disabled campaigners handcuffed themselves to inaccessible trains and buses in the 1990s.

Section 59 of the Bill, which has been voted through in draft form by MPs, would see protesters who put people at risk of  “serious inconvenience” or “serious annoyance” facing jail terms of up to a decade.

There are also fears that people who present with non-neurotypical behaviours would face more threat of arrest, charge, conviction and imprisonment, with such behaviours often being misconstrued as acts of aggression, rather than non-neurotypicality, or anxiety, distress or stimming (which can include physical behaviours such as erratic movement).

DRUK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “In a 2018 case at the European Court of Human Rights (Alexei Navalny v Russia) the court said: “Freedom of assembly as enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects a demonstration that may annoy or cause offence to persons opposed to the ideas or claims that it is seeking to promote… Any measures interfering with freedom of assembly and expression other than in cases of incitement to violence or rejection of democratic principles – however shocking and unacceptable certain views or words used may appear to the authorities – do a disservice to democracy and often even endanger it.”

“The Bill as it stands is in direct opposition to the Convention, to which the UK signed up in 1950. The Minister for Policing told Parliament last summer that the right to peaceful protest “will never be curtailed by this government”. And yet this Bill has the potential to undermine fundamental freedoms and silence already marginalised voices.

“We would urge MPs to think twice about the place of protest in society, and how it can so often be a power for positive change where otherwise people would go unheard.”

A briefing on the Bill can be found on the Good Law Project website here:

https://goodlawproject.org/news/pcsc-bill-briefing-for-mps/

People who are concerned about the impacts of the new bill, may submit concerns to Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights 

Email: jchr@parliament.uk

Phone: 020 7219 2467 (General enquries) / 07565 202054 (Media enquiries)

Address: Joint Committee on Human Rights, Houses of Parliament. London. SW1A 0AA