Monday, 23 March 2009

Publication of The Joint Committee on Human Rights' Report on Policing and Protest

The JCHR on Policing and Protest has finally published its report with some good news and others not so.
The good news in their recommendations:
'The Government should amend Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Reference to insulting words or behaviour should be removed. This change would allow the police to arrest people for using threatening or abusive language or behaviour but not for using insulting language or behaviour.

Counter-terrorism powers should never be used against peaceful protestors: the Government's guidance on stop and search powers in Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 should make this clear.

The Government should protect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly around Parliament by repealing the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.'

'Where preventing protest on private land to which the public routinely has access would effectively deprive individuals of their right to peaceful protest, the Government should consider the position of quasi-public spaces to ensure that the right to protest is preserved.'

Some of the not so good news in their recommendations:
'Protest around Parliament should be governed by the Public Order Act 1986. However, the 1986 Act should be amended to deal with the specific circumstances of Parliament, so as to allow Parliamentarians and others to access and work in Parliament whilst protest is ongoing.'


137. We consider that protest around Parliament should be governed by the Public Order Act, in particular the police power to impose conditions on protests under section 14. There is a case, however, for amending section 14 to deal with the specific circumstances of Parliament. Although the Public Order Act could be invoked if protestors sought to prevent people from entering Parliament, it is unlikely to be of assistance where there is doubt as to whether the "purpose" of the organisers is "to intimidate others". Consequently, we recommend that the Public Order Act should be amended to enable conditions to be placed on static protests where they seriously impede, or it is likely that they will seriously impede, access to Parliament.'

‘We recommend that the Home Office, the police, Westminster City Council and the parliamentary authorities should develop alternative arrangements to manage noise levels from protest in Parliament Square, including consideration of whether legislative change is necessary and whether maximum noise levels should be imposed and enforced effectively.’

You can find this report at:

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

SOCPA s132 update

Buried in the Home Office 14th Septemver memorandum to the JCHR's Policing and Protest inquiry is this:

26. In moving to repeal sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, the Government takes seriously the need to ensure that the operation of Parliament is safeguarded and security is not compromised.

In response to concerns raised by the Metropolitan Police and others, we are seeking the views of Parliament on whether additional provision is needed to ensure access to the House is not hindered and the workings of the House are not disrupted. These concerns need to be balanced against Parliament’s status as the natural focus for the
electorate to express it views which was very strongly articulated in response to our

27. In terms of whether additional provision is needed in the wake of the repeal of sections 132 to 138, we are keen to hear the views of the JCHR. The JCHR will be aware that the Joint Committee on the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill which has been examining protests around Parliament, including the repeal of SOCPA, has now published its recommendations. We are carefully considering the Committee's recommendations and will respond in due course before introduction of the Bill during the fourth Parliamentary session.


But in Vernon Coaker's oral evidence:

Q40 John Austin: You have reaffirmed the government's intention of repealing sections 132 to 138 of SOCPA. In earlier evidence, the government have said to us that this was a matter of constitutional renewal and it was not because of the government's feelings that there was a compliance problem on human rights grounds. I notice, unless I have missed it, that the Constitutional Renewal Bill is not in the Queen's Speech this year. If you are going to do it as part of constitutional renewal, when do you expect to bring in the repeal of 132 to 138 of SOCPA?

Mr Coaker: We expect that to come in this session. We think it is an important part of the constitutional renewal and in the response that you will have seen to the document in managing protests around Parliament there was general recognition in the responses that we had to that that it was unpopular.

Q41 John Austin: Which Bill will it be part of?

Mr Coaker: The Constitutional Renewal Bill.

Q42 Chairman: That is not happening.

Mr Papaleontiou: The programme of constitutional renewal was referenced in the Queen's Speech. We will be taking forward measures which will be addressed.

Q43 Chairman: It is somewhere towards the back end of the queue. Why can you not take it as part of the Law Reform Bill?

Mr Coaker: My understanding was that we were changing this with respect to the SOCPA clauses and we were amending those in this session of Parliament. I will go back to the Department and clarify that. I have been briefed to say that to the Committee. That was my understanding as well but I will go back and clarify that with the Department and write to the Committee to make sure that I am not misinforming you.

Q44 Chairman: That is helpful but if it looks as though the Constitutional Renewal Bill is going to be at the back of the queue for the parliamentary year, we may need to carry the Bill into the next year, which may mean it gets alongside of the General Election, that is not very helpful. It is a relatively minor reform in terms of drafting so I will put it to you again: we know there is going to be a Law Reform Bill. Why can it not be part of that? I ask it in a rhetorical way.

Mr Coaker: I cannot answer that because I do not know, having been told that we are going to take this forward in this session, whether there is some other Bill that I have not thought of that it is going to be part of. What I need to do is to check this so that I properly inform the Committee of what the intention is.

Q45 Chairman: It could also go in the Policing and Crime Bill, could it not?

Mr Coaker: It is the Policing and Crime Bill which I am taking forward, as I think you have probably just been told. This is an extremely important measure. It is important as a statement about our country and protest. Therefore, it is an important legislative change that we need to take forward. My own personal commitment to it is something that is there. I will find out what is happening and come back to the Committee so we can properly inform you how we are moving on that.

Chairman: It would be very helpful if it could get into an earlier Bill. I certainly feel an amendment coming on.

Q46 John Austin: Apart from the regulation of protests around the House of Commons, there is the issue of access as well. There was some question as to whether the Public Order Act was adequate for the purpose. Can I ask you what options the Home Office is actually looking at for changes to the Public Order Act to deal with protests around Parliament?

Mr Coaker: We obviously want to remove the SOCPA provisions but we do know that session orders are passed by Parliament at the beginning of each day and it is important that Members of Parliament and members of the House of Lords can gain access. Part of the changes that we will make will be looking at how we can ensure, notwithstanding the changes I have said we intend to make with respect to taking those clauses out, that Members of Parliament, Members of the House of Lords and others, can access Parliament. We will look at that, not only in terms of accessing when Parliament is sitting but when Parliament is not sitting as well.

Q47 John Austin: Will there be an opportunity for adequate discussion of the options that you might be considering?

Mr Coaker: Yes. There will be. It will be my intention to ensure that we negotiate and involve members of this House in terms of what action there should be. We will have a full, frank and open discussion about how we bring that about.

Q48 John Austin: Very often we have a very last minute opportunity of commenting on proposals.

Mr Coaker: You are right to say that. That is not my intention. Everybody will be pleased about the withdrawal of the SOCPA provisions but alongside that there is a recognition however that there is a need to ensure that we can access Parliament.


There is still no proposal of how they will achieve this 'recognition', byelaws or baton charges.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Freedom to Protest in Portsmouth

John Molyneux was arrested on the 3rd of January and charged under Section 11 of the Public Order Act (1986) after helping to organise a protest in Portsmouth against the massacres in Gaza. His 'crime'? Exercising his freedom to publicly express political dissent in association with others.

Article from Portsmouth Today: http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/Protest-organiser-is-to-challenge.4862367.jp

'Protest organiser is to challenge the law that led to his arrest'
Portsmouth Today
10 January 2009
By Alex Forsyth

'A protester plans to challenge the law that led to his arrest after a
peaceful demonstration against Israel's attacks on Gaza.

John Molyneux appeared at Portsmouth Magistrates' Court yesterday,
when he pleaded not guilty to failing to give police enough notice of
the march that followed last Saturday's rally.

The 60-year-old university lecturer, pictured, who was charged under
the Public Order Act, admits he was an organiser of the demonstration
in Portsmouth's Guildhall Square.

But he plans to argue in court that he should not have been arrested
for failing to give six days' notice of the event.

Mr Molyneux said: 'The main events that occurred were witnessed by the
hundreds of people that were there. The facts cannot be disputed and I
will not argue against that. But this is about our democratic right to
hold protests and I will be presenting legal arguments in defence of
those rights.'

As reported in The News, around 400 people turned up in Guildhall
Square on January 3 as part of a weekend of demonstrations organised
across Europe.

Mr Molyneux was arrested minutes before the rally was due to end.
Police said they needed sufficient notice of an event in order to
police it effectively and insisted they acted reasonably.

But campaigners accused them of being too heavy handed.

Jon Woods, a member of the Portsmouth Stop the War Coalition, said he
supported Mr Molyneux in his fight against the law.

'It was a peaceful demonstration and there was no need for the arrest,' he said.

'This is about our basic right to protest and I think John is right to
argue for that.

'Protest does make a difference and sometimes we do have to be able to
respond to situations at short notice.

'For example, in the case of asylum seekers, if we waited six days to
give notice by the time we protested they would have been shipped off
back to their country to face torture.'

Mr Molyneux, of Mayles Road, Milton, will remain on unconditional bail
until he appears in court on April 17 to stand trial.'

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Home Office proposal: new power of arrest for ongoing protests

Summary: The police asked for new powers to arrest habitual protesters, the Home Office says: yes!

Details: The Home Office has been looking at streamlining and harmonising some of the provisions of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984; the primary legislation dealing with police powers, including searches, arrests and detention.

The aim of their review is supposedly to encourage "views and comments from the public, stakeholders and practitioners on PACE and its application to 21st century policing. This is the final phase of the consultation process and sets out specific recommendations for change aimed at reducing bureaucracy, freeing up officer time, whilst increasing accountability and raising public confidence and awareness."

Hidden within the government's many proposals is a promise to:

Expand the current necessity criteria to deal with so-called 'ongoing offences'
Which is elaborated as:

Clarifying the necessity criteria

7.13 The criteria in section 24(5) PACE, excluding the need to investigate, are similar to those in section 38 PACE (detention after charge). Both focus on the need to prevent harm or to protect other persons or property. The necessity criteria on arrest is not sufficiently clear when dealing with the prevention of injury and loss of/damage to property to deal with continuing offences; and certain types of antisocial behaviour and low-level disorder, including non-compliance with directions designed to prevent the consequences of such behaviour.

7.14 The relationship between the routine powers to take, check and retain fingerprints and DNA of arrested persons at the station and the necessity criteria would also benefit from clarification.

For example, the necessity criteria would be satisfied if the effective investigation of the offence requires taking and comparing fingerprints and DNA for evidence or where it is reasonably believed that fingerprints would resolve a properly founded doubt as to the arrested person's identity.

However, the criteria are not meant to support arrest solely for the purposes of routinely taking fingerprints and DNA to add to the national databases.

7.15 We propose to clarify the application of necessity criteria by:

* Providing a more straightforward connection between the effect of the suspect's behaviour on others and the need to arrest to prevent that effect. An example might be, where the constable reasonably believes that a person present is likely to fear for the safety of themselves and/or their property and that the suspect's arrest is necessary to allay that fear; and

* Making it clear that the taking of fingerprints and DNA to carry out a speculative search & collect biometric data is not sufficient grounds on its own to make an arrest.


But what do they mean by "low-level disorder"? Why SOCPA s132 of course!

Background, from the DCR Bill Joint Committee's First Report:

73. The Metropolitan Police Service has stated that police powers of arrest in relation to SOCPA were inadequate:

"the MPS has dealt with a number of individuals who have chosen to deliberately commit offences under SOCPA. A power of arrest has existed in some of these cases, an example being where a protestor refused to provide any details. However, the MPS is increasingly having to deal with those who choose to protest in the SOCPA area in situations where a power of arrest does not exist and despite being formally reported for an offence, they continue to commit that offence. In those cases, the MPS is powerless to prevent a continuance of the offence and those committing the offence continue to break the law, so undermining it. The MPS believes that a power to arrest should exist to prevent individuals continuing to commit an offence after they have been formally reported for it. This could be achieved by an amendment to s24(5) PACE [the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984]."


76. We note the differences of opinion about the adequacy of police powers of arrest. We welcome the commitment by the Home Office Minister to remove any "confusion" as part of the review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that is being carried out by the Home Office. Had we been given further time for our inquiry, we might have obtained further evidence that would have enabled us to provide a more useful assessment of the adequacy of existing powers.

Related evidence to the committee:

Now leafleting needs advance permission

A small example of how restrictions on freedom of assembly affect everybody:

"Two campaigners dressed as penguins were removed from Telford Town Park after being told they would need a criminal record check and risk assessment to hand out leaflets. [...] Telford & Wrekin Council, which manages the park, said anyone wanting to hand out information there had to give advance notice of who they were and what they were distributing. Spokesman David Morgan said: “They have to be CRB checked and risk assessed under the Child Protection Act. There are a lot of children playing in the park at this time of year and we have a duty of care to them and our adult visitors. “The people asked to leave had given no notice or information. We did not know who they were or what they were doing. Organisations and individuals should always plan ahead and get permission from the council before doing anything in the town park to avoid any problems or misunderstandings.”"
"Environmental campaigners who had dressed as penguins today defied a ban on handing out leaflets without permission in Telford Town Park. [...] Telford & Wrekin Council, which owns and manages the park, today defended its rules for the site. David Morgan, council spokesman, said there were many children in the park during the summer months and the council had a duty of care to them and adult visitors. He said: “People wanting to participate in an activity or stage an event need permission. It is not the authority being heavy-handed, it’s a legal requirement.”"
"Council staff on the lookout for paedophiles have been ordered to stop and quiz any adults found walking in Telford Town Park without a child, it was revealed today. [...] The policy came to light after two environmental campaigners dressed as penguins were thrown out of the park last month when caught handing out leaflets on climate change. [...] David Ottley, Telford & Wrekin’s sports and recreation manager, said in a letter seen by the Shropshire Star: "Our Town Park staff approach adults that are not associated with any children in the Town Park and request the reason for them being there.""
"The Government has today attacked a controversial borough council policy to stop and quiz childless adults who were spotted in Telford Town Park. The Home Office said Telford & Wrekin Council had no right to accost anyone innocently enjoying the park. It also said the council could not demand Criminals Records Bureau checks on anyone not working with children or vulnerable adults. But Telford & Wrekin Council bosses today said it was not a blanket policy covering the park but anyone seen acting suspiciously would be quizzed."
"Telford & Wrekin Council is to review its policy of stopping and questioning people in Telford Town Park in the hunt for paedophiles, it was revealed today. The authority says the review will end confusion over its policy and make it clear it does not have a “blanket” approach to stopping childless adults in the park."

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Freedom to Protest: What Does the Proposed Repeal of Sections 132-38 of SOCPA Really Mean?*

It seems another consultation on our freedom to assemble and protest is on its way. The House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights has just launched a ‘Call for Evidence’ in order ‘to enquire into the human rights issues arising from policing and protest’. These are some of the questions asked:

• What limits, if any, should be placed on the right to protest and why?

• Should specific limitations be placed on the ability of certain groups to protest? If so, who and why?

• Should the right to protest be more strictly curtailed in relation to certain geographical areas? If yes, where, why and what limits would be acceptable?

• The Government proposes to repeal sections 132-8 SOCPA dealing with protest around Parliament and invites Parliament to consider whether additional provision is needed to ensure that Parliament's work is not disrupted by protests in Parliament Square. What, if any, additional provision is required?

• In what circumstances would it be permissible for the State to take pre-emptive action, which curtailed protests?

• Are existing police powers necessary? Are more or fewer required?

• Are counter-terrorism powers appropriately used in the policing of protests?

• In what circumstances may actions during protests be justifiably criminalised?

• How should the balance be struck between the rights of protesters and other competing interests (such as the rights of others or the prevention of disorder or crime)? Would legislative changes be desirable to strike a better balance between competing rights, or is the current legislative framework about right?

This talk of ‘legislative changes’ might be the first step for new policies that will allow for a further criminalisation of certain groups who are now protesting against the State and its criminal actions inside and abroad [1]. The introduction of a new set of restrictive laws regarding protest will send a clear message to protesters: “Stay at home and shut up or you might end up in prison”. This remains to be seen.

Whether the intention of this consultation is to introduce more draconian legislation or not, the consultation itself should not be conducted in the first place. Our freedoms should never be put to consultation or to a vote, regardless whether a majority votes for or against them. Consultations of this type are just an attempt to give a democratic look to a very undemocratic practice: the removal of individuals’ freedoms and rights by the State. It perpetuates the misleading assumption that democracy is based on the rule of the majority. The Italian and German experiences from the 1930s tell us that that is definitely not the case.

At the end of March, the government published two separated documents, 'The Governance of Britain: Analysis of Consultations' and 'The Governance of Britain – Draft Constitutional Renewal White Paper'. The first document includes an analysis of the results on the consultation ‘Managing Protest Around Parliament’ – that ended on the 17th of January - while the second details the Government’s policy proposals in light of these results. Among the proposals there is the repeal of sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which tacitly force protestors to apply for authorization from the police in order to hold a demonstration within a 1 km exclusion zone around Parliament. Other provisions up for repeal included in these sections are the ban on the use of loudspeakers in the designated area and police powers to impose conditions on demonstrations around Parliament regarding place, time, number of people, banners/placards and noise levels. No doubt the repeal of these sections can only be good news to everyone. However, it did not come as a surprise. The consultation was, first of all, published with this intention in mind. We know this because the Metropolitan Police itself asked for a repeal of these sections, as it came clear in their response to the consultation [2]. The problem was not whether they wanted to repeal SOCPA or not. For many campaigners it was the question of what would come to replace it, since that legislation has proved highly ineffective regarding the original intentions of the Government when they managed to pass SOCPA: to get rid of Brian Haw peace camp and to ensure that political protest around Parliament could be rendered as ineffective as possible so they could go on about their normal businesses without being disturbed.

The worrying aspects of the consultation paper were the questions regarding the ‘harmonisation of legislation’, also a direct request by the Metropolitan Police and reflected in their response:

'In summary, the MPS believes that a prior notification scheme should continue to apply to processions that fall within s11(1) POA and should also apply to assemblies of 2 or more persons within the proposed area outlined above. The MPS also believes that it should have the ability to place conditions, on the basis of the grounds laid out above, on any procession, assembly or lone protest wherever it occurs prior to it taking place or during its currency.' [3]

The feature article published in Indymedia on the 16th November, 2007 titled 'Preserving Disorder: Freedom to Protest and the Future of SOCPA' (proposed by 'State of Emergency') first described the chilling effects such an ‘harmonisation’ could have on our ability to assemble and protest freely. ‘Harmonisation’ meant that the pre-SOCPA legislation that applied to ‘processions’ could also be extended to apply to all demonstrations, including assemblies, and in the whole country, not just the exclusion area. The pre-SOCPA legislation refers to sections 11-13 from the Public Order Act 1986 that forces organizers to notify the police in advance when they are holding a procession, also allowing for the police to impose conditions on that procession and even giving them the power to ban it altogether. A ‘procession’ is any two or more people moving in the same direction.

Section 14 of POA 1986 gives the police the power to impose conditions on assemblies, although they cannot ban them. An ‘assembly’ now means any two or more people with the same idea, standing still - as defined by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, Section 57/123. Conditions that can be imposed on assemblies refer to place, maximum duration and maximum number of people. Therefore, the good news in the recently published government white paper was not really the repeal of SOCPA but rather the fact that they seemed to have backtracked on their intentions of harmonisation. It looks like they are not going to propose new legislation that would make it an offence not to notify the police in advance that you will be holding an assembly and also removed the possibility of a straightforward ban of a public assembly:

'Given the strength of feeling in responses to the consultation document on potential restrictions on legitimate protest, and in the absence of greater evidence of a policing problem, the Government will not pursue harmonisation of the sorts of conditions that can be placed on marches and assemblies in the Public Order Act 1986.' [4]

This said, it is also clear from this paper that the Government is not giving up on the idea of introducing new legislation restricting freedom of assembly and protest around Parliament:

'In moving to repeal sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, the Government nonetheless takes seriously the need to ensure that the operation of Parliament is safeguarded. …
The Government therefore invites the views of Parliament on whether additional provision is needed for the purpose of keeping passages leading to the House free and open while the House is sitting, or to ensure that, for example, excessive noise is not used to disrupt the workings of Parliament.' [5]

This intention has now been spelt out by the questions asked by the House of Commons Joint Committee on their call for evidence on the right to protest. Many of these questions directly refer to suggestions made by the Metropolitan Police, Westminster City Council and the GLA (Greater London Authority) in their responses to the consultation. Among the many there is, for example, the need to identify and target certain groups (with the help of the Police Forward Intelligence Teams [6] no doubt) in order to impose restrictions on them. For example, the GLA states in its response:

'It may be appropriate to develop criteria to distinguish between assemblies and marches to focus on timing, scale, size, and information on organisers requesting permissions, for example .' [My italics] [7]

The GLA also expressed its desire to limit the duration of any protest [8]. What form these new measures and legal changes might take is not clear yet, but what is puzzling is the fact that we know they already have legislation in place that allows for the repression of protest when and if needed. That legislation is - mainly but not only - the Public Order Act 1986.

Last October, the organizers of the Stop The War Coalition march to Parliament had notified the police in advance and sat down with them in order to negotiate the conditions of that protest (stewards, route, time, etc.), thus complying with Sections 11 and 12 of POA 1986. However, the Police walked out from negotiations with the Stop the War Coalition, announcing that they were not ‘facilitating’ their march – an euphemism meaning that they would use any means, including force, to stop that march happening. Many people were under the impression that, in doing so, the police had used powers granted them under SOCPA. In fact, when the police tried to justify the ban they mentioned a Sessional Order, under the 1839 Metropolitan Police Act [9], that was in reality an order from Parliament to the Police ‘to enable free passage by Peers and Members on days on which Parliament is sitting’ [10]. However, it was not actually possible for the police to legally use this Sessional Order to criminalise the organizers of the march, especially because non-compliance by protesters could not have constituted any offence. That Sessional Order is just an instruction of Parliament to the police and not legislation. However, Section 13 of POA 1986 gives the police the power to prohibit marches. This section justifies the prohibition of a procession in a particular area for no longer than three months when the police ‘reasonably believes’ that the procession could result in serious public disorder. At the end, the police decided not to exercise this power and finally allowed the march to happen.

These facts were largely mis-represented not only by the organizers of the 8th of October march but also the mainstream press. For example, in an article published in the Observer on October 7, 2007, Henry Porter forgets to mention that the STWC had been complying with POA 1986 all along and that power to ban that march was not really contained in SOCPA or the Sessional Order, but in POA 1986:

'That is where it becomes a problem. Instead of using the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, the law preventing demonstration within a kilometre of Parliament Square without police permission, the authorities have disinterred a Sessional Order of the House of Commons of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, passed at the time of the Chartists.

With archaic relish, they have banned the march because it may impede the progress of any MP or peer who wants to attend Parliament (it is surprising there is no mention of Mr Speaker's coach and four). The organisers have guaranteed that access, but the ban stays in place, which is odd given that the Prime Minister is on record as saying he wants to repeal the section of SOCPA that requires police permission.'

Even more worrying, the results of the consultation seem to have reinforced POA 1986, as most of those who sent a response merely stated that provisions under this Act are ‘sufficient’ to deal with processions and assemblies. One of the most paradoxical examples was Liberty’s response to the consultation, where they ask for a repeal of SOCPA while at the same time declaring:

'While Liberty may not support the level of interference permitted under the POA, the law exists, and in our view provides the police with more than adequate powers to manage public assemblies.' [11]

So, in light of these type of statements, where so-called civil liberties campaigners are not even able or willing to campaign against existing legislations they know to be wrong, the Government’s paper analyzing the results of the consultation finally states: ‘The overall view, however, was that the current framework of the Public Order Act should not be changed.’ [My italics] [12]

When the first day of action for free assembly was held on the 12th of January 2008, those present at that protest exercised non-compliance with both legislations, POA 1986 and SOCPA 2005, since what happened that day was at the same time an ‘assembly’ and a ‘procession’ (Under POA 1986 a march is a type of procession). Semantics aside, it might be the case that - even if at the end they do not introduce more restrictive legislations - the repeal of sections 132-138 of SOCPA will not mean that things will get any better since the police do not really need those sections in order to effectively repress protest all around the country. They will only need to stick to POA 1986 and the other legislations and measures introduced since then – such as the declaration of ‘dispersal zones’ - and apply them more often and harshly than they have done until now.

However, on the more pessimistic side, there is a high chance that the results from the call for evidence by the House of Commons Joint Committee will serve to justify a further extension of police powers contained under POA 1986. There is a good reason why Parliament is now listening carefully to any request by the Police. As the MPS clearly expressed in its response to the consultation, their suggestions are indeed to the interest of those now sitting in Parliament:

'The MPS believes that implementation of its proposals will ensure that those who wish to protest can continue to do so but in such a way that they do not hinder the operation of Parliament.' [13]

Certainly, the Government and Parliament in general are desperate to minimize the effectiveness of any protest, knowing they are right now embarked on a genocidal foreign policy and the unjust – and criminal - treatment of individuals inside the UK [14]. The result: the progressive removal of our freedom to assemble and protest for a long time to come and, therefore, the disappearance of nearly the only tool we have in order to defend ourselves and others from the increasing power and abuses of the State.

[1] This is already happening under Sections 145- 149 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 that target animal rights groups. These sections are not up for repeal. On how these sections have been applied on animal right groups see, for example, information on the 'Sequani 6' case: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/05/398853.html and http://sequani.wordpress.com
[2] Actually they ask for a repeal of Sections 132-36 and Section 138 but not Section 137. This Section refers to the ban on the use of loudspeakers in the designated area. See 'The Governance of Britain - Managing Protest Around Parliament. Response from the Metropolitan Police Service', p. 5 and also the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, Section 137: http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/legResults.aspx?activeTextDocId=2086243
However, the Goverment has proposed a repeal of this Section too. See 'The Governance of Britain – Draft Constitutional Renewal White Paper March 2008' p. 15
[3] 'The Governance of Britain - Managing Protest Around Parliament. Response from the Metropolitan Police Service' p. 6
[4] 'The Governance of Britain – Draft Constitutional Renewal White Paper March 2008', p. 15
[5] Ibid. p. 16. The two Houses of Parliament has just created a Joint Committee in order to come up with suggestions for new legislation that will replace Sections 132-138 of SOCPA. They are also asking for evidence. See
Also, in Indymedia:
[6] ‘Forward Intelligence Teams are units in UK Police forces that use high visibility police officers in full uniform. Using cameras, camcorders and audio recorders to conduct overt surveillance of the public. First appearing as part of the Public Order Intelligence Unit (CO11), a section of the Public Order Branch of the Metropolitan Police, they were initially targeted at football fans and political protesters, but the concept has since been extended to routine police work on low-level crime and disorder. Despite the implication in the name that their function is to gather intelligence they are actually intended to have a deterrent effect.’ Definition from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forward_Intelligence_Team
[7] 'Managing Protest around Parliament-Response from the Mayor of London', p. 2
[8] Ibid. p. 3
[9] Sessional Orders are passed every year under this Act: ‘The House's Order to the Metropolitan Police (together with a similar order made each session by the House of Lords) is transmitted to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and results in his giving directions to constables under powers in section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839.’ See: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmproced/855/85507.htm
[10] Ibid. Select Committee on Procedure Report, Nov 2003
[11] 'Liberty’s response to the Home Office Consultation: Managing Protest Around Parliament' – January 2008, p. 7
[12] 'Governance of Britain – Analysis of Consultations ‘Managing Protest Around Parliament’, p. 10
[13] 'The Governance of Britain - Managing Protest Around Parliament. Response from the Metropolitan Police Service', p. 7
[14] See for example Amnesty International Report on the UK: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/europe-and-central-asia/western-europe/uk#report
Also Human Rights Watch:

* This article was published in Indymedia on the 5th May 2008 under the title 'Freedom to Protest and the Repeal of SOCPA'. See:

Next Campaign for Free Assembly public meeting:

Sunday 11th May 2-4pm
London School of Economics Connaught House
Room H101
Map: http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/mapsAndDirections/

Campaign for Free Assembly
e-mail: freeassembly@riseup.net

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Last Campaign for Free Assembly Day of Action

Last Saturday 5th of April we gathered at Trafalgar Square to once again claim our freedom to assemble in the UK. Around twenty of us held banners from the campaign and handed out leaflets informing passers-by on the existing and proposed legislations thwarting our ability to freely protest in this country. With us there were also a few police vans and the Forward Intelligence Teams (see video by Doug). However, this time we didn’t get the same amount of harassment and intimidation they usually inflict on protesters. After an hour in the ‘Charles I Island’ (South Trafalgar Square) we moved with our banners into the SOCPA exclusion zone and went for a walk to Whitehall, the Home Office and Parliament Square, where we were joined by Brian Haw (see photographs of demo below). Needless to say we were escorted all the way by a group of approximately eight police officers and a police van. We decided we didn't want to wait until this government’s finally repeals sections 132-138 of SOCPA in order to protest in the restriction area. We feel those laws, as with many others, are unjust and against our fundamental freedoms and, therefore, we refuse to comply with them.

Jack Straw announced plans to replace SOCPA sections 132-138 - which ban spontaneous demonstrations around Parliament, and make it a criminal offence to demonstrate without police permission - to get maximum positive PR from the ever-compliant press. Straw only announced the repeal now, while the need for new laws was hidden in the small print:

"In moving to repeal sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, the Government nonetheless takes seriously the need to ensure that the operation of Parliament is safeguarded. For many years this principle has been given expression in sessional orders which provided the Metropolitan Police with clarity on the House’s expectations on the Commissioner. [...] The Government believes that Parliament itself is well placed to contribute to proper consideration of what needs to be secured in order to ensure that Members are able freely and without hindrance to discharge their roles and responsibilities. [...] The Government therefore invites the views of Parliament on whether additional provision is needed for the purpose of keeping passages leading to the House free and open while the House is sitting, or to ensure that, for example, excessive noise is not used to disrupt the workings of Parliament."


The proposed powers and those already given to the police create a climate of criminalisation: a vast confusion of laws are applied arbitrarily so people are arrested simply for standing in the wrong place at the wrong time or having the wrong face. This combines with a police culture that evades accountability even when people are killed, as shown by the Menezes case and others.

There should be no complacency that the court system can be relied on to prevent injustice. The ability to exercise effective protest is crucial in order to defend ourselves and others from the abuses of those in power. Whatever the issues that matter most to you, whether you are concerned about a safer school crossing, a new runway or ending a war, these laws affect you.

The government proposals need a response not on paper but on our streets. The message is simple: we claim the freedom to assemble without prior notification or permission and this freedom is not open to negotiation.

The Campaign for Free Assembly will be holding a Day of Action on the first Saturday of every month in order to campaign against, not only the restrictions within the 1km designated area under SOCPA, but also all the other legislations and measures - as in the case of 'dispersal zones' - constantly being applied to suppress free assembly and protest.

Next Day of Action for Free Assembly: Saturday 3rd May. We will gather at 1pm at the ‘Charles I Island’, the roundabout on the South side of Trafalgar Square (fyi: this place is just on the border with the SOCPA exclusion zone).

Come with your mates and decide with them what you want to do with the day. Bring placards, banners and anything else you can think of. Let them know you won’t be easily silenced.

Next CFA Public Meeting: Saturday 12th April, 2-4pm. London School of Economics, Connaught House, room H102 (Holborn).

Campaign for Free Assembly
e-mail: freeassembly@riseup.net