Protecting the right to protest

Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are vital rights that I wholeheartedly support, and it is clear that the right of an individual to express their opinion and protest is a cornerstone of our democratic society. 

Under no circumstances should protests become violent; clearly the rights to peaceful protest do not extend to harassment, intimidating behaviour or serious disruption to public order. 

Of course, the responsibility for the maintenance of public order lies with the police. How they deploy their powers and the tactics they use is rightly an operational matter, but we must ensure that they have the right powers to manage protests appropriately.

We need to strike a balance between the rights of a protestor and those of individuals to go about their daily business. Some demonstrations have caused unjustifiable disruption and distress to other citizens for example, during the recent climate protests. The PCSC Bill aims to enhance the police’s ability to manage protests, to allow essential services to continue unabated and to ensure that the day-to-day lives of the overwhelming majority are not disrupted by a selfish minority.

The measures in the PCSC Bill are not about stopping or clamping down on right to protest but ensuring the police can better manage highly disruptive protests and maintain the balance I have outlined. 

We must be clear on how protesters’ rights will be protected. It is the case that when using these powers, or existing public order powers, the police must act within the law. Importantly, the police must be able to demonstrate that their use of powers is necessary and proportionate. It is also clear that the police must act compatibly with human rights, in particular Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of association).  

I am aware that much has been said regarding the proposed public nuisance offence. As you may be aware, Clause 59 gives effect to recommendations made by the Law Commission in their July 2015 Report on 'Simplification of the Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency'. The report stated that the common law offence of public nuisance should be replaced by a statutory offence covering any conduct which endangers the life, health, property or comfort of a section of the public or obstructs them in the exercise of their rights. You can find the Law Commission report on this issue at the following link

Importantly, the new statutory offence of public nuisance will cover the same conduct as the existing common law offence of public nuisance.