The Government has just introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021. The Bill addresses a wide range of issues from traffic offences to the protection of war memorials and statues. The driving force behind the Bill’s introduction, however, has been the reaction of Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, to the high-profile protests that the country has witnessed around Brexit, Black Lives Matter and climate change. She has referred to members of the public who have taken part in these demonstrations as “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals” and has accused them of “hooliganism and thuggery”. The Bill would give sweeping new powers to the police to restrict peaceful protests – including the powers to set restrictions on maximum noise levels, the duration of the demonstration and where protests can take place. The measures proposed in the Bill are disproportionate. Defacing a memorial, for example, can lead to a ten- year term in prison, whilst rape will only carry a seven- year sentence.
The liberties and freedom that we presently enjoy were hard won and came at a price. Recent events such as those in Hong Kong, Myanmar and, dare I say, Washington DC, serve to remind us that democracy is a delicate flower that can easily be stamped on. The policing of the women’s vigil in West London at the weekend will be debated for some time. As that debate ebbs and flows we need to safeguard the rights of ordinary people, men and women, to gather peacefully to express their dissatisfaction with their government. If we neglect to do that we do so at our peril.