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What are the Kill the Bill protests?

Kill the Bill protests have filled streets and news feeds across the UK. But what are they about?
Protesters on the Kill the Bill march in London, April 3. Paul Easton/Flickr

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of cities across the UK demanding ministers “Kill the Bill” in recent months. People are angry and increasingly concerned that Brits’ democratic rights could be curtailed before the end of the year. But what are they protesting about?

What is the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill?

The PCSC Bill is designed to introduce new police powers and review the rules around crime and justice across England and Wales. 

It proposes wide-ranging new police powers when it comes to protests, such as the ability to impose “conditions” on any protest which is deemed to be disruptive to the local community and up to 10 years in prison for damaging memorials, such as statues.

The legislation also cracks down on trespassing, which in practice puts Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups at risk and threatens to push rough sleepers deeper into homelessness.

Other new measures include increased jail sentences for assaults on emergency workers and child murderers. 

What are the Kill the Bill protests about?

“Kill the Bill” is an old protest slogan used around the world, but the recent UK protests started after the PCSC Bill passed its second reading in Parliament, meaning MPs had voted in favour and it would go to the committee stage for further scrutiny. 

The protesters are angry that the Bill would allow police to impose “conditions” — widely seen to mean restrictions or outright bans — on protests if their actions cause “serious annoyance” to the surrounding community, organisations and businesses. 

It could mean the police placing start and finish times on protests, or shutting down protests if they restrict access in and out of Parliament. Anyone who does not stick to these conditions could be fined £2,500.

Protests are designed to attract attention to a cause or issue and the most effective way to do that is by being as noisy and visible as possible. Opponents to the Bill say its vague wording could mean it is used to stamp out any and all dissent.

“This will be the biggest widening of police powers to impose restrictions on public protest that we’ve seen in our lifetimes,” Chris Daw QC, a leading barrister and author, told The Big Issue.

“The bill hands over the power of deciding whether a protest is justified or should be allowed — decisions we as citizens have had for generations — directly to the Home Secretary. That’s an extremely chilling development. It’s completely contradictory to everything the liberty of the free citizen is about in Britain.”

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The bill could put marginalised people more at risk, opponents have warned. It widens stop and search powers for police, making it easier to search people who were convicted of carrying a knife in the past. But existing laws are well-documented as discriminating against young black men, particularly in London.

On April 27, lawyers told Parliament’s joint committee on human rights that the bill’s provisions for clamping down on protests because of “noise” and “unease” were vague and subject to interpretation, according to the Guardian. A potential 10-year sentence for public nuisance was described as “disproportionate”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has focussed on elements of the bill designed to address sentencing for sexual offences and violent crime when discussing it in parliament, describing them as “crucial measures… to support victims of violent crimes including young women and girls”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a similar angle when speaking to the BBC in March, highlighting the increase in sentences for rapists and stopping the early release of sexual and violent offenders in what he called “a very sensible package of measures” .

Grassroots activist groups are also protesting the threat posed by the pill to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups. In its manifesto, the Conservative party pledged to “protect communities” by criminalising travellers who pitch up on unauthorised sites, threatening them with large fines and criminal records. 

The bill seeks to put this police power into law, meaning an already marginalised group of people could be penalised and have their vehicles – their homes – confiscated.

This part of the legislation – section four – also poses serious risk to rough sleepers, Homeless Link told The Big Issue. It’s a concern which has gone “under the radar”, said Rob Cartridge, acting head of communications and advocacy. But the trespassing laws mean people found sleeping rough or in cars on private land could be prosecuted, ultimately making it even more difficult for them to escape homelessness.

“It seems deeply ironic, and unfortunate, that it could negate the benefit of getting rid of the Vagrancy Act,” Cartridge said. The nearly 200-year-old act makes it a criminal offence to beg or be homeless on the streets of England and Wales, and the current government pledged to scrapping it in favour of more “modern” laws, but gave no timeline for repealing the act.

A parliamentary inquiry found the police used “excessive force” and breached people’s “fundamental rights” in the handling of Kill the Bill protests in Bristol as well as at the vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common, failing to “understand their legal duties in respect of protest”. Protesters are worried this kind of police action could become the norm under the new policing bill.

When are the next Kill the Bill protests?

The next Kill the Bill protest will be held on Wednesday, July 7 in London’s Parliament Square between 2pm and 6pm. 

It’s expected more demonstrations will be organised across the country in the coming weeks as the bill continues its route through parliament. Remember to check the details with the local organisers so you can remain within the law and protest safely.

What happens next?

It has since had its third reading in the House of Commons and was voted through by MPs by a majority of 100. It will now move to the House of Lords for further debate and amendments on its journey to becoming law.