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Explained: How the Public Order Bill will clamp down on protests

You may have noticed that many of the proposals are the same as the ones rejected from Priti Patel’s Policing Bill.

The government is announcing a new wave of anti-protest powers with a new bill in today’s Queen’s speech – the Public Order Bill.

In a bid to crack down on “eco-zealots” – groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain, and Just Stop Oil – creating disruption, a range of new offences will be created as the government lays out its new legislative agenda.

But many of these “new” measures have already been rejected by the House of Lords, when it voted on the Policing Bill.

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Protest and human rights groups are already reacting to news of the new powers, with Insulate Britain saying: “We aren’t stopping so lock us up.”

But what does the Public Order Bill mean? We’ve broken it down.

What is the Public Order Bill?

The Public Order Bill is expected to make “locking on” a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to six months in prison.

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“Interfering with key national infrastructure” will also become an offence. This includes printing presses – a reaction to Extinction Rebellion’s 2020 protests where the group blocked printing of a number of national newspapers.

This will carry a maximum sentence of 12 months and unlimited fine.

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The penalty for blocking highways will increase, with policing minister Kit Malthouse saying existing fines were of no consequence to supposedly-affluent “Waitrose card-holding” protesters.

“These individuals, they’re often Waitrose card-holders and the money that they have to spend on fines is neither here nor there, so the deterrent effect isn’t there,” Malthouse told LBC.

“What we’re trying to do is bring more of a deterrent which previously we have done through some of the injunctions that we’ve obtained… but we need it encoded in the criminal law.”

The Guardian also reports that police will gain greater powers to stop and search, in a bid to prevent disruptive protests. “Protest Asbos,” or “serious disruption prevention orders” will also come into force as part of the Public Order Bill – imposing conditions on repeat offenders.

Public Order bill
Extinction Rebellion protesters at Trafalgar Square, April 2022. Image: Extinction Rebellion

Haven’t we seen this before?

Yes – many of these reported measures were part of the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts bill – also known as the Policing Bill – which became law in April.

That new law gives police the power to impose restrictions on protests deemed too disruptive.

The bill sparked the Kill the Bill movement, which saw a year of protests, and had a number of measures voted down by the Lords.

Police powers against locking on, blocking infrastructure, and to introduce “protest ASBOs” were rejected by peers and could not become part of the Policing Bill – so are back as part of the Public Order Bill.

How are groups reacting to the Public Order Bill?

Leading human rights organisation Liberty condemned the Public Order Bill as “rehashed” and called for the public to resist.

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, told The Big Issue: “These rehashed measures to crack down on protest in today’s Queen’s Speech are yet another power grab from a government determined to shut down accountability.

“Protest is a right, not a gift from the state – and measures like these are designed to stop ordinary people making their voices heard. Parliamentarians and the general public rejected these dangerous measures when they were first rushed through in the Policing Bill, but the government has refused to listen.

“From restrictions on protest to scrapping the Human Rights Act, this is all part of the government’s continued attempts to rewrite the rules so only they can win, and prevent ordinary people from having their say.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said she would be working in parliament to defeat the “oppression” of the new Public Order Bill.

“This is not a public order bill – it’s a public oppression bill. Will be working cross party again to defeat,” Lucas tweeted. “Our right to peaceful protest should be protected, not attacked. Shame on Government for bringing back these dangerous proposals.”

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