Police powers to shut down disruptive protests

January 16, 2023


Police could soon be able to shut down protests before serious disruption could be caused under government plans.

Downing Street claims the proposals would help officers clamp down on “a minority” who use tactics like blocking roads and slow marching.

But it is being intertpreted as a means to block demos by protestors such Just Stop Oil who have been able to grind motorway networks to a standstill in recent months.

The plans give police greater flexibility and clarity over how and when they can intervene.

Human rights group Liberty said the proposals amounted to an attack on the right to protest.

The plans will be set out in an amendment to the Public Order Bill, due to be introduced on Monday.

Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion have also been using highly disruptive tactivcs to highlight their causes.

Liberty spokesman Martha Spurrier, claimed the proposals were “a desperate attempt to shut down any route for ordinary people to make their voices heard”.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but this is not absolute.

“A balance must be struck between the rights of individuals and the rights of the hard-working majority to go about their day-to-day business.


“We cannot have protests conducted by a small minority disrupting the lives of the ordinary public. It’s not acceptable and we’re going to bring it to an end.

“The police asked us for more clarity to crack down on these guerrilla tactics, and we have listened.”

Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Mark Rowley said:
“The Met has a long history of policing protests, responding quickly and effectively to incidents involving crime and where serious disruption is caused, often in challenging situations. We have specialist officers trained to deal with a range of tactics, but this is complex, time-consuming work.

“It is clearly understood that everybody has the right to protest. Increasingly however police are getting drawn into complex legal arguments about the balance between that right to protest and the rights of others to go about their daily lives free from serious disruption. The lack of clarity in the legislation and the increasing complexity of the case law is making this more difficult and more contested.

“It is for Parliament to decide the law, and along with other police chiefs, I made the case for a clearer legal framework in relation to protest, obstruction and public nuisance laws.

“We have not sought any new powers to curtail or constrain protest, but have asked for legal clarity about where the balance of rights should be struck.

“I welcome the government’s proposal to introduce a legal definition of “serious disruption” and “reasonable excuse”. In practical terms, Parliament providing such clarity will create a clearer line for the police to enforce when protests impact upon others who simply wish to go about their lawful business.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Public Order and Public Safety, Chief Constable BJ Harrington, said: “We welcome the constructive conversations with government over more clearly defining serious disruption.

“This will support officers in confidently and quickly taking action and making arrests where appropriate.

“Policing is not anti-protest, but there is a difference between protest and criminal activism, and we are 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.”

The College of Policing have confirmed today that they will produce guidance outlining the additional powers given to officers over the last year.

National Highways is also reviewing its guidance, taking learnings from previous protests to ensure that roads are reopened as quickly as it is safe to do so.

Today’s announcement is the latest step in the Government’s continued commitment to tackle the highly disruptive protests that the British public have been increasingly subjected to over the last few years.

Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, the Government introduced a statutory offence of public nuisance and created powers for the police to place conditions on unjustifiably noisy protests and increased the sentences for obstructing the highway. Measures already announced in the Public Order Bill include creating a new criminal offence for interfering with key national infrastructure and for ‘locking-on’.

The Prime Minister also sat down with the Home Secretary and police chiefs in December to give a clear message that the Government expects protesters who disrupt the lives of others to be swiftly removed and arrested.

Nick Harris, National Highways’ Chief Executive, said: “The strategic road network is the backbone of the country, supporting the movement of trade, the daily commute and connecting friends and families, so people have a right to expect it to operate efficiently.

“We’ve already obtained civil injunctions to deter reckless and dangerous protests on these busy roads. When they do occur, our guidance will help keep disruption to a minimum by ensuring that the carriageway is opened as quickly as it is safe to do so.”

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