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What are the Kill the Bill protests?

More Kill the Bill protests are planned this week, with the government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill due back in the House of Lords

kill the bill protests

Protesters at a Kill the Bill march in April 2021. Image: Extinction Rebellion

Anger is continuing over the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, months after cities across the UK were filled with the chants as thousands joined ‘Kill The Bill’ protests.

The bill, which planned to introduce a range of anti-protest measures, is in its final stages before it becomes law and has been met with protests at every stage of its parliamentary journey. These protests have been known as the Kill the Bill protests.

While a number of new anti-protest amendments, slipped into the bill at the last minute, were rejected by the House of Lords, activists are still trying to put pressure on MPs to agree to other changes.

But what are the protests about? And what’s in the bill?

What is the 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.

The House of Lords voted in January for a number of amendments to water these measures down. However, MPs must vote whether to keep these amendments – meaning the Lords’ decision is not final, and the protest crackdowns could still become law.

“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.

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” .

When are the next Kill the Bill protests?

A fresh round of protests took place on Saturday January 15, ahead of votes in the Lords on controversial anti-protest measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts bill.

A large-scale march took place in London, and days later Lords voted to reject government amendments introducing protest crackdowns, and to reject some of the harsher parts of the bill.

A fresh protest is due to take place at 6pm on Monday February 28, in London’s Abingdon Street Gardens, as MPs vote on whether to keep the Lords’ changes to the bill.

Opposition to the bill has also become intertwined with opposition to the government’s Nationality and Borders bill – with activists saying both bills threaten the rights of minority communities.

What are the government’s late amendments to the Bill?

Late in its journey through parliament, the government has added 18 additional pages to the Bill.

Police would have the power to stop and search people suspected of carrying equipment that could be used to ‘lock on’ – a key protest tactic.

Locking on itself could carry a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks. 

Police could also be given powers to carry out stop and search “without suspicion” in protest contexts.

However, these amendments were defeated in the Lords, in a session where the government suffered a landmark 14 defeats. While this means the measures cannot be put back into this bill, they could become law if the government decides to revive them as part of a future piece of legislation.

Legal campaigner Griff Ferris told The Big Issue the amendments amount to “the latest authoritarian high-water mark in this government’s attempts to eradicate all opposition to its rule”. But the Bill is also being used as a vehicle for non-protest issues. A separate amendment would allow life sentences for anyone who allows or causes the death of a child in their care.

What happens next?

The bill is in its final stage of its parliamentary journey – the consideration of amendments. MPs have been given six hours on February 28 to vote on changes put forward by the Lords.

But this final stage is one of the most complex. While the government, with a large majority, will likely reject most of the changes voted for by peers, that will not be the end of the matter. If they do so, the amendments begin a process known as “ping-pong”, passing between the Lords and the Commons until an agreement is reached.

In the case of a stalemate, the Lords will usually defer to the decision of the Commons, as it is the elected house. But compromises and deals may be struck to ensure the bill passes before time runs out. And protesters are hoping to keep the pressure up as a way to make sure the most strident anti-protest measures do not return.

This article is updated regularly with the latest information.

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