By Ben Kerrigan-
Home Secretary, Sella Braverman (pictured)has said proposed amendments to the Bill will give police the powers they need to prevent and respond to “guerrilla tactics that cause misery to the hard-working public”.
The new powers would allow police officers to intervene before protests become “highly disruptive” and give them greater clarity about when they can intervene to stop demonstrators blocking roads or slow marching, the government said.
The amendments to the Public Order Bill are aimed at curbing tactics used by groups such as Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion, according to the home secretary.
On Monday, the bill reaches the report stage in the House of Lords, with debates on measures used by some protesters such as locking-on and tunnelling, the thresholds as to what point the police can intervene, and new stop and search powers.
The Public Order Bill reaches its report stage in the House of Lords on Monday night (January 30). There will debates on the new criminal offences of locking-on and tunnelling, the thresholds at which the police can intervene, new stop and search powers and Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (SDPOs).
“Enough is enough,” Ms Braverman said. “Blocking motorways and slow walking in roads delays our life saving emergency services, stops people getting to work and drains police resources.
“Around 75 days of Just Stop Oil action alone cost the taxpayer £12.5 million in policing response. This is simply not fair on the British public.
“Our Public Order Bill will see proper penalties for the small minority using guerilla tactics to hold the public to ransom under the guise of ‘protest’.
“Having listened to the police, we need to clarify what constitutes serious disruption in law, so officers can take much quicker action to protect the public and prevent days on end of gridlock on our roads.
“I urge colleagues across the House of Lords to pass this measure tonight – it is our duty to stand up for the law-abiding public and protect their right to go about their business.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the amendments will broaden the legal definition of ‘serious disruption’, giving police “greater flexibility and clarity” over when to intervene to stop the disruptive minority who use tactics such as blocking roads and slow marching to inflict misery on the public.
Under the proposed changes, police would not need to wait for disruption to take place and could shut demonstrations down before they escalate.
A new criminal offence of interfering with key national infrastructure, such as roads, oil refineries, airports, railways and printing presses will carry a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
New offences of ‘locking-on’, and going equipped to ‘lock-on’, to others, objects, or buildings in order to cause serious disruption will carry a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, and an unlimited fine, respectively.
The Home Office says new stop and search measures and SDPOs will improve the police’s ability to intervene before such disruption is caused.
SDPOs will target repeat offenders of protest-related offences and those who have breached injunctions. Anyone subject to a SDPO could be forced to wear an electronic tag, while breach of an order carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.
In addition, the Secretary of State will be able to apply for an injunction in relation to protest activity which causes, or threatens, serious impact on public safety, or serious disruption to access to or use of key national infrastructure, essential services and/or essential goods.
A new criminal offence of tunnelling or being present in a tunnel in order to cause serious disruption will carry a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, while going equipped to tunnel will result in a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for public order and public safety, Chief Constable BJ Harrington, says while policing is not anti-protest, there is a difference between protest and criminal activism, and it is committed to responding quickly and effectively to activists who “deliberately disrupt people’s lives through dangerous, reckless, and criminal acts”.
“Police have a responsibility to appropriately balance the rights of the public who are going about their daily business lawfully and the rights of those protesting,” he added.