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Parliament is currently considering a controversial new bill targeted at protesters who create serious disruption. If passed in its current format, it would make it a criminal offence to obstruct key infrastructure.
New Protest Offences
If you have been arrested following a protest in England or Wales and you need legal representation, contact us now at Ashmans Solicitors. Our criminal defence lawyers are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The new Public Order Bill
In October 2022, two men scaled the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge in protest against the government’s new oil and gas licences. The incident created serious disruption on the M25, causing traffic delays for two days.
This is the type of behaviour that is targeted by the new Public Order Bill, currently being considered by Parliament. It was devised under former Secretary of State for the Home Office Priti Patel. While introducing the bill, she said:
“We are seeing parts of the country grind to a halt. Transport networks have been stopped, printing presses blocked and fuel supplies disrupted. People have been unable to get to work and go about their lives free from harassment”.
What does the new bill propose?
In its current format, the bill proposes a swathe of legal changes that would allow new police stop and search powers. This would enable both ‘suspicion-led’ and ‘suspicion-less’ stop and searches.
It would also create new criminal offences, including:
- Locking on – where someone attaches themselves to land, an object or to another person and causes serious disruption
- Tunnelling – where someone creates or occupies a tunnel that causes serious disruption
- Obstructing major transport work and interfering with key national infrastructure
- Interfering with the access to, or provision of, abortion services
Furthermore, the Secretary of State would be able to bring civil proceedings against individuals who carry out protest-related activity. This includes injunctions.
Protesters could also find themselves subject to a Serious Disruption Prevention Order (SDPO). This would place various conditions on that individual, which could include electronic tagging.
The bill has proved controversial, with many saying it could threaten the right to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly. However, the government has responded to critics by saying the new bill aims to plug gaps in existing legislation to protect the public from serious disruption.
Priti Patel formerly said that the right to protest should be upheld, but behaviour that prevents people from going about their day-to-day business should not be tolerated.
The bill is now before the House of Lords, so it remains to be seen what amendments (if any) will be made. We will keep you updated on any legislative changes, as and when they happen.
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