Activism

Priti Patel's new bill 'treats peaceful protest like knife crime or terrorism'

"It criminalises peaceful protest in a way which has not been done before," MPs were told today.

public order bill

Police at a Kill the Bill protest in London, April 2021. Credit: Joao Daniel Pereira/Extinction Rebellion

The government’s new Public Order Bill treats peaceful protest like terrorism or knife crime, a leading lawyer has told MPs.

Adam Wagner, a barrister who represents protesters, told MPs the planned law would not deter hardcore protesters from groups such as Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil – but would put off normal people from attending innocuous protests.

The Public Order bill, which includes measures to jail protesters for ‘locking on’, and to ban repeat offenders from attending protests, is currently being considered by MPs in a public bill committee.

“It criminalises peaceful protest in a way which has not been done before,” Wagner said.

“It treats peaceful protest like knife crime or drug dealing or terrorism.”

Patel’s bill has already passed two votes by MPs and would also give police expanded stop and search powers.

“Locking on” would become an offence punishable by up to six months in prison, while “interfering with key national infrastructure” would carry a maximum prison term of 12 months.

The bill is a direct response to the protests of Insulate Britain, Extinction Rebellion, and Just Stop Oil, seen over the past months and years.

Wagner warned the bill would clog up courts with complicated legal cases – predicting the Colston Four trial “writ one hundred times more”.

But he said the measures, in his experience of representing committed protesters, would not put them off.

“Environment protesters, BLM protesters, whichever cause you think of, they will say, ‘well it’s going to be a badge of honour to go to prison’, and the prison system will start to be full of these people.

“It is not going to deter them.”

The new law will also cover the blocking of printing presses, in reaction to an Extinction Rebellion protest in 2020. David Dinsmore, an executive at The Times and The Sun’s publisher News UK, told MPs the protest had cost the company around £1.2 million.

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