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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

Cities across the UK have been filled with the chants of angry protesters in recent weeks thousands of people demand Parliament “Kill the Bill”. 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.

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.”

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.

Where have been people protesting against the bill?

Protesters held demonstrations in a number of English towns and cities over recent weeks including London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Luton, Weymouth and Bournemouth.

In Bristol, early gatherings ended in violence between police and protestors. More than 1,000 people attended a third protest – after Covid-19 lockdown rules changed to make an exception for outdoor demonstrations – forcing the closure of part of the M32 motorway. Seven people were arrested.

More than 100 people were arrested in a London demonstration on Saturday April 3, police said, mostly for offences such as breach of the peace and assault on police or violating lockdown restrictions. 

Earlier that day, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed people gathered in Parliament Square. “Stand up for the right to protest, stand up for the right to have your voice heard,” he said. “I want a society where you can demonstrate and you don’t have to seek the permission from the police or the home secretary to do so.”

What happens next?

The Bill was expected to go to the committee stage in the week after it passed its second reading, a week filled with protests across the country. Days after the vote, however, the parliamentary website stated it was not expected back in the House of Commons until June 24.

“The last week has shown that protest works,” a spokesperson for Sisters Uncut said after the news it had been delayed. “That’s why they want to ban it, and that’s why we’re fighting back.”