On 9 November 2023, Liz Davies KC, instructed by the Public Interest Law Centre, submitted questions on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid.
Questions were put in three areas relating to the decision-making and planning for the rise in domestic abuse during lockdown.
The inevitable rise in domestic abuse during lockdown
The first question was around the general rise in domestic abuse as a result of social isolation and lockdown. That there would be a rise in domestic abuse, in terms of increased incidents, new perpetrators and victims, and increased severity, was foreseeable, in that there was evidence from China and other countries and it was a matter of obvious common sense. The Government was also warned as potential victims of domestic abuse anticipated & feared consequences of lockdown. Calls to Solace advice line rose by 117% in March 2020, in advance of lockdown.
Given that, Priti Patel was asked why the Home Office did not start to plan for that rise earlier than 26 March, after the Prime Minister’s address to the nation and the start of lockdown. Priti Patel replied: “We were working with Louisa Rolfe at the Metropolitan Police and within our policing call frameworks as well early on in anticipation, as I said, even — lockdown, post lockdown, the surges that would come within helplines, and also the inevitability of the consequences of domestic abuse, violence, vulnerabilities. So I would absolutely say particularly with policing colleagues, and that’s predominantly where our equities were at the time in the run-up to lockdown, there were a range of discussions taking place within the Home Office and with policing colleagues.”
No Recourse to Public Funds – a Triple Threat to survivors
The next question related to the disproportionate impact of domestic abuse on those subject to the No Recourse to Public Funds condition. It was foreseeable that victims subject to domestic abuse & with NRPF conditions on their leave to remain would face a triple threat – the double threat faced by all victims of domestic abuse of coronavirus plus domestic abuse in lockdown – with the addition of fear of destitution if they left. That is because the NRPF prevents women who claiming public funds in the form of welfare benefits or homelessness assistance from local authorities.
The government was extensively lobbied, from early in the first lockdown throughout the whole of 2020, that the NRPF condition should be suspended during the pandemic. Notwithstanding this, the Government took an intentional position to not suspend NRPF. Priti Patel was asked whether suspending the NRPF condition, to help victims trapped in abusive relationships, would have been the humanitarian thing to do during the pandemic.
Priti Patel replied: “We could get into a wider debate about the implications of suspending that condition, because there are then legal implications. If you suspend a condition for a period of time, if you then reinstate those conditions, it then takes — and I do recall reading advice at the time, some of the legal challenges just around suspending — it may seem straightforward to organisations lobbying for that change, but I do specifically recall receiving advice at that time saying that it would be legally challenging to then go back and restate. And I appreciate, the organisation you’re representing, the position that you take around no recourse to public funds, but obviously that condition exists for a reason.
“You’ve asked specifically around accommodation and housing provision. My understanding at the time was that MHCLG in particular were providing funding, so that — it’s not just the Everyone In policy, which clearly I do recall that existed there for good and proper reasons, because homelessness — that we have to protect people that were homeless, but specific funding for refuges so that they could provide that provision that was deemed to be so essential and that was raised at the time.”
The third question was around the funding that had been announced on 2 May. £76 million additional funding to support survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, vulnerable children and their families & victims of modern slavery. £29 million allocated for domestic abuse, £15 million from MoJ, £10 million from MHCLG and £2 million to be allocated by the Home Office. That money came after extensive lobbying && indeed threat of legal action. By then domestic abuse charities were dealing with unprecedented numbers of calls to their advice lines & refuges were full.
The money does not appear to have been allocated until 19 June 2020.
Priti Patel was asked, given that the key time was March, April and May 2020, why did it take so long for the funding to be released, and was that not too late. She was also asked whether the money announced on 2 May was only made available after a sector-wide campaign and threat of legal action, rather than the Government initiative.
Priti Patel said: “It took time to do the allocations and […] I can’t remember why, but I think there could have been some Treasury processes around that which could be why. Secondly, I think we may have had — we’ll have to go and check the record — a system where organisations, including organisations such as Southall Black Sisters and Solace Womens Aid, could then apply directly to the Home Office. That might’ve taken time, that could be why the money was not allocated. But we’d have to check the record as to what the processes were around that, because having an allocation of funds from the Treasury does not automatically mean they go out immediately, there are various organisations we were speaking to.
“I had been in touch with, for example, it could have been Women’s Aid, who specifically wrote to me at my request where I’d asked them for a breakdown of the type of funding that they needed and what that would be used for. So understanding how this money could be allocated resourcefully, to provide the direct and additional help that was really needed, was certainly part of the process that we were undertaking at the time.”
The event also marked the end of Tranche One of the Undercover Policing Inquiry.
Donna McLean: Author of ‘Small Town Girl’ and Core Participant to the Inquiry
Lindsey German: Stop the War Coalition and Core Participant to the Inquiry
Suresh Grover: The Monitoring Group and Core Participant to the Inquiry
Piers Marquis: Doughty Street Chambers
Our report ‘Spycops: When the public is the enemy’ published our written submissions from Core Participants that had instructed the Public Interest Law Centre in Tranche 1 (covering 1968-1982) of the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI), which the UCPI concluded on 22nd February, 2023.
In Tranche 1 of the Inquiry we represented three of the Core Participants:
Lindsey German was a former leading member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and a founder of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC).
‘Mary’ was a member of the International Marxist Group (IMG) and a supporter of workers’ rights. She was deceived into a sexual relationship with an UCO.
Richard Chessum who was an activist in the Troops Out Movement (TOM).
We applaud them for their years of political campaigning, and for their integrity throughout this process.
On 27 September 2023 the Covid-19 Inquiry held a preliminary hearing in relation to Module 3 of its investigation further to the handling of the pandemic by public bodies in the UK. Those public bodies include the National Health Service (NHS), national Government departments, and local authorities.
Module 3 will consider the impact of the pandemic on healthcare systems throughout the UK. It will consider the healthcare consequences of how the Government responded to the pandemic. It will look at capacity of all healthcare systems to responded to a pandemic and people’s experience of healthcare during pandemic. The module will also examine healthcare-related inequalities, such as death rates and PPE.
Lawyers from the Public interest Law Centre (PILC) are representing the ‘Frontline Migrant Health Workers Group’ (FMHWG) who comprise three organisations. First, the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) and second the United Voices of the World (UVW) both non-TUC affiliated trade unions. They represent frontline workers who are cleaners, porters, couriers and kitchen staff who are low paid outsourced workers employed in many cases on worse terms and conditions than fellow ‘in-house’ workers in the NHS.
Third, as part of the FMHWG we also represent Kanlungan, a consortium of Filipino, South East and East Asian grassroots community organisations. Kanlungan members work across the healthcare sector as nurses, cleaners and domestic healthcare staff. Throughout the pandemic their members worked on the frontline in the NHS and other healthcare facilities.
These three organisations were granted Core Participant status at the Inquiry as the Frontline Migrant Health Workers Group.
At the preliminary hearing we spoke to these 3 key areas that we believe the Inquiry needs to examine. Our oral submission to the Inquiry can be read here.
Scope and issues for the Inquiry.
Prior to the oral hearing we provided important written submissions on behalf of our clients where we raised issues regarding the scope of the Inquiry’s investigations.
In their initial provisional list of issues the Inquiry only referred to ‘clinical staff’ and not ‘non-clinical staff.’ We argued that ‘non-clinical staff’ which would include essential workers such as hospital porters, hospital cleaners, catering workers and medical couriers, made vital and ongoing contributions to ensure that healthcare systems continued.
Counsel to the Inquiry in her opening oral submission accepted this point, advised that non-clinical staff would be included and fully acknowledged it was an oversight to not include ‘non-clinical staff.’
We also made representations on behalf of domestic healthcare workers, many of whom are from a migrant background. Further to those submissions we now know they will be included in a later module, and their role through the pandemic will be acknowledged.
In these preliminary submissions on behalf of the FMHWG we raised the need for an expert to be instructed by the Inquiry to particularly consider issues relating to outsourcing and the impact of privatisation in the NHS. In addition that expert should also consider the impact of hostile environment immigration policies on healthcare services, and healthcare workers.
For our clients, outsourcing and the linked issue of privatisation has been a disaster not just for them personally, the impact it has on their pay and working conditions – but crucially the impact on a quality of care and the impact it has on weakening the NHS itself.
The FMHWG regard this Inquiry as vitally important to their members and to the future of the NHS. Like the Trades Unions Congress we stressed the importance of the Inquiry hearing directly from our clients who worked on the frontline. We argued that they must be seen and heard.
The Covid-19 pandemic delivered a considerable shock to every aspect of society and shone a light on major systemic failings. The staggering loss of life witnessed in numerous regions across the globe has prompted profound questions. Those systemic failings and probing questions are not solely about how care was provided, but more about how we fund and organise public health in the future – is it for need or for profit?
On 13 September 2023 Module 4 of the Covid-19 Public Inquiry heard preliminary submissions from state and non-state core participants.
The Public Interest Law Centre is representing the Migrant Primary Care Access Group (MPCAG) which is a collective of organisations that seek to raise the voice and experience of refugees and migrants and their experiences during Covid.
Module 4 is a distinct part of the Inquiry which seeks to examine the development of Covid-19 vaccines and the implementation of the vaccine rollout programme in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Inquiry intends to focus on lessons learned and preparedness for the next pandemic.
The chilling effect of a decade of anti-migrant rhetoric and the Government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policy had already left migrants vulnerable, without primary care and in fear of immigration enforcement when accessing services. Only with the assistance of the organisations that make up MPCAG (and other organisations in the migrants’ rights sector) were many migrants able to access vital medication, treatment and vaccination. The impact of immigration enforcement measures during the early stages of the pandemic affected trust and migrants’ willingness to access primary health care and the vaccine.
Our counsel Sonali Naik KC and Marie Moodie are experience immigration and public law practitioners. Both are based at Garden Court chambers.
Our preliminary contribution can be viewed here from 2 hours 34 minutes.
Solace and Southall Black Sisters give voice to the experiences of domestic abuse survivors and services during the UK’s Covid Inquiry
VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) charities, Solace and Southall Black Sisters are core participants in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry to ensure the voices & experiences of domestic abuse survivors during the pandemic are heard.
Through an opening statement from Garden Court Chambers on Wednesday, the leading VAWG charities told the inquiry that the government failed to fully recognise that for many women & girls, home is not a safe place and that lockdown made an unsafe home even more dangerous.
In evidence to the inquiry on Friday afternoon from Rebecca Goshawk, Solace’s Head of Partnerships and Public Affairs, the two charities highlighted:
Whilst the covid-19 pandemic did not cause domestic abuse, it did create the conditions for it to escalate.
The Government didn’t take the necessary steps to ensure that domestic abuse victims were protected and were not clear enough that they could leave their home to get help.
Migrant victims were particularly vulnerable as they were left with few options to escape as many could not access state support and lived in fear of immigration enforcement.
Many women will still be living with the abuse or the mental health challenges as a result of the trauma experienced under lockdowns.
Nahar Choudhury, Solace CEO, says, ‘The pandemic was terrifying and life changing for most of us, and for women and families locked in with their abusers during lock down it was horrifying and for many it was life threatening. We are sharing the experiences of domestic abuse survivors with the inquiry to ensure that Government is better prepared to protect women now and if/when we face the next pandemic.”
Hannana Siddiqui, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research at Southall Black Sisters says “Southall Black Sisters are highlighting the plight of black, ethnic minority and migrant women during and after the pandemic. Migrant women with no recourse to public funds in particularly were in a triple bind of Covid-19, domestic abuse, and deportation and destitution. The Home Office made a positive decision not to lift the NRPF – thus giving the perpetrator more power! We have also submitted written evidence with the aim of making sure that these state failures never happen again in a future pandemic.”
Helen Mowatt, Solicitor at Public Interest Law Centre, who are supporting Solace and SBS says “The Government failed to properly consult specialist organisations and provide them with the funding needed to respond to the inevitable rise in domestic abuse during the pandemic. This occurred in the context of over a decade of austerity and systemic underfunding of the VAWG sector, when these organisations were already over-stretched and unable to meet demand, local authorities were too often withholding homelessness assistance from women fleeing domestic abuse, and there was insufficient safe and secure housing for survivors.”
“There was no clear messaging that survivors could flee their homes, or any indication of what support was available. Nothing was done to mitigate against the triple threat suffered by migrant survivors without secure immigration status – domestic abuse, the pandemic, and a fear of deportation.”
SOLACE is a leading specialist charity in the UK supporting women and children experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence. Whatever form violence comes in, from rape to trafficking to relationships based on psychological or financial control, we work to end it. We know that escaping the effects of violence can be the hardest thing to ever do. That’s why the lifesaving support that Solace provides to 30,000 women, children, and young people each year is so important.
Southall Black Sisters, a not-for-profit, secular and inclusive organisation, was established in 1979 to meet the needs of Black (Asian and African-Caribbean) women. Our aims are to highlight and challenge all forms gender-related violence against women, empower them to gain more control over their lives; live without fear of violence and assert their human rights to justice, equality and freedom.
Albert, Andrzej (‘Bieszczady’), Eugeniusz, Eryk (‘Fragles’) and Radek (‘Fontanna’) were members of a Polish-language coffee-mornings group run by PILC in 2021 and 2022. This was a space where Polish speakers who were or had been homeless could come together to share experiences and talk about issues that affected them.
The conversation presented in the booklet ranges widely over themes including: the experience of sleeping rough; trying to find a stable place to live or stay; encounters with support services and immigration enforcement; being a victim of violence; being homeless during Covid-19; and working in the black and grey economies.
We hope ‘England Took Us In’ will offer activists, lawyers, homelessness workers and scholars—among others—valuable insight into the experience and analysis of homeless non-UK nationals. We’re extremely grateful to Albert, Andrzej, Eugeniusz, Eryk, and Radek for their eloquence, trust and patience throughout the process of preparing this publication.
In September 2023 we will hold a launch event to mark the publication of a limited run of print copies of the booklet and to celebrate the PILC clients, friends and comrades who have contributed to all three parts of the Other Voices series.
Please watch this space for further announcements about the launch event!
Litigation is at the core of PILC’s work. We bring legal cases on behalf of oppressed groups & individuals and in solidarity with grassroots activists fighting for radical change. In our short lifetime we’ve won victories that have helped counter some of the worst excesses of state surveillance, social cleansing, gender-based violence & structural racism.
The courts are a necessary terrain in the struggle for a better world. Yet we’re painfully aware of the limits of legal action. The law is a product of the socio-economic system we live under. It is set up to reinforce that system. The remedies offered by judges or public inquiries will always be inadequate to addressing systemic harm.
Since our foundation as a law centre we’ve tried to hammer home the wider social and political implications of the cases we take on. We also undertake radical rights education and work to raise awareness of how public law can help communities resist injustice.
In 2020 we launched a blog and began publishing advocacy reports, personal testimonies and policy analysis. We’ve come to see researching and telling compelling stories about how the law operates in our society as a vital complement to our day-to-day litigation and casework.
Our Other Voices series of publications builds on this strand of PILC’s work by making space for voices that tend to be marginalised in mainstream legal, policy and human-rights discourses.
With a focus on PILC’s priority area of racial justice and migrants’ rights, we centre the practices and analysis of frontline workers and activists, as well as people and communities treated by our (legal-political-economic) system as marginal or disposable—who inhabit, as Denise Ferreira Da Silva writes, ‘that place where what should happen to nobody happens every day’.
We don’t see this series as an exercise in ‘inclusion’ or ‘user voice’. Making the tent bigger is pointless if the rules of the game stay the same. We’d like these publications to upset the terms of the ‘policy debate’ around migration and homelessness—its language, its horizons and the power relations expressed through its very silences.
Our contributors—PILC staff, clients and friends—speak & write with eloquence, intellect and deep feeling, challenging received narratives and leaden theories of change. They offer a sobering account of the way things are now.
Through the spirit & energy of resistance they articulate, they also gesture towards a future worth fighting for.
The Public Order Act 2023 is a serious infringement upon civil liberties and the democratic right to protest. It suppresses dissent, imposes arbitrary restrictions, and undermines freedom of expression.
The Act provides excessive power to the Government, enabling the suppression of dissenting voices and peaceful protests. The potential for abuse of power by law enforcement agencies is a significant, as the Act may disproportionately target certain groups. Such arbitrary restrictions not only infringe upon freedom of expression but also erode trust in the fairness and impartiality of the legal system.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry has recently referred a second set of suspected miscarriages of justice to a dedicated panel established by the Home Office. Its purpose is to review the referred cases and determine if further action is necessary, potentially including referral to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Our client Michael Chant is one of those who has had his case referred.
In this particular referral, the Inquiry examined the actions of an undercover officer known as HN13, or ‘Desmond Barry Loader’ who was a member of the Special Demonstration Squad. This particular Undercover Officer (UCO) had infiltrated the East London branch of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) (CPE-ML) and was involved in two incidents that led to the prosecution of both himself and other CPE-ML members.
The first incident involved an anti-fascist march from Ilford to Barking on September 17, 1977, resulting in a prosecution for insulting behaviour. HN13 and seven others appeared in Barking Magistrates’ Court on September 21, 1977, and were later remanded for trial on January 3, 1978.
The second incident occurred during the Brixton by-election on April 15, 1978, when clashes between the anti-fascist forces and the neo-Nazi National Front right took place. Four members were arrested including our client. Michael Chant was convicted at Brixton Magistrates Court on June 29, 1978, for using “insulting behaviour”.
During these trials, HN13, using his cover name “Barry Loader,” was acquitted on the first occasion but convicted of using threatening behaviour on the second. The Chairman of the Inquiry, based on the evidence provided, has determined that there is a likelihood of deliberate deception of the trial benches in both cases regarding the identity and role of HN13, suggesting a potential miscarriage of justice.
The Inquiry’s findings and related materials can be found in the Tranche 1 Interim Report, specifically in paragraphs 53 and 54 of chapter 5, published on June 29, 2023. The Inquiry is still ongoing, and it is possible that additional suspected miscarriages of justice will be identified as it continues to investigate undercover policing operations chronologically from 1968 to the present.
Michael Chant said: “These incidents show the depths to which the state was involved in trying to subvert and criminalise the progressive movements of the day. Although the Inquiry has held in its interim report that the undercover long-term infiltrations by the SDS were not justified and, if known publicly, ‘would have been brought to a rapid end’, today the use of police powers is more open and exposes the nature of the state. It is just and right that the miscarriages of justice from the time be referred for redress.”
On 12th March 2015 the then Home Secretary, Theresa May announced the establishment of a statutory public inquiry to examine undercover policing. Whilst the UCPI potentially can include all undercover policing in England and Wales since 1968, in reality it will concentrate its efforts on the SDS, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and some regional police forces. Unfortunately, and despite efforts by our client Tilly Gifford in bringing Judicial Review proceedings we could not convince the Scottish High Court that the Inquiry should be extended to Scotland.
For a public inquiry to be granted is attributed to the courageous women who were misled into engaging in sexual relationships with undercover officers. Their unwavering dedication to seek justice compelled the Government, to grant a public inquiry. Furthermore, the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign exerted additional pressure after uncovering that an undercover officer had been deployed to spy on them.
Public Order and Subversion
When defending the operations of this undercover unit two major arguments have been put forward to defend the SDS. First, that the SDS provided detailed and necessary information to prevent public disorder. Second, that the SDS provided necessary and detailed information to prevent ‘subversion’ – that is groups and individuals who the Government claimed wanted to overthrow the state.
This Interim Report rejects both of these arguments.
First, the Interim Report states clearly that the deployments of undercover officer (UCO’s) made little contribution to the policing of public order. Indeed only small minority of the reports (for example, about 8% between 1975 and 1978) dealt with anything that could possibly be said to be public order related. On the occasions that they did relate to public order, the assistance given was minimal (see particularly comments related to the events at Southall but also Lewisham).
The Interim Report also states that if assistance was required it could have been achieved by other means. Ultimately the Interim Report concludes that “…the ends did not justify the means.” (p.96)
Second, the issue of ‘subversion.’ The Interim Report concludes that virtually no groups presented a threat to the safety or well-being of the State (i.e. was subversive). The Chair’s view was that only three of the many hundred of groups that were infiltrated could be said to have met those criteria (Provisional Sinn Fein and two groups that were referred to in closed hearings that have not been publicly named). It follows that NONE of the Non-State, Non-Police Core Participants met the criteria.
In Tranche 1 our clients Richard Chessum and Lindsey German gave live in person evidence to the Inquiry. Both of them were activists and campaigners during the 1970’s. Both were monitored, and had extensive files opened on them. This was not justified. We are concerned that in Richard Chessum’s case this lead to blacklisting.
We argued on behalf of our clients that at the highest levels of the Metropolitan Police (MPS), Home Office, as well as the Security Services, were fully aware of illegal and unethical practices by 1975 at the latest. They knew that public order and subversion justification was tenuous at best.
Bearing in mind that state of knowledge, a key question going forward for the UCPI must be: Why did the highest levels of the MPS, Home Office and Security Services not address these issues?
Further, given that the Interim Report accepts that there was, 1) no public order justification and 2) no subversion, then what the Inquiry must answer going forward is – Why did the methods and practices of the SDS continue through this period, and indeed going forward from 1982?
Our clients believe that the only answer is there was a decision at the highest levels that surveillance, monitoring and infiltration by UCO’s of socialists, anti-racists, and social justice campaigners was for political and ideological reasons. We will continue to argue that political policing was the long term strategy of the state for the purposes of blacklisting, and to create a data base of files on individuals and groups. There can be no other reasons!
We welcome some of the conclusions of the Interim Report. We believe that the UCPI is heading in the right direction.
There are of course weaknesses. The Interim Report criticises two UCO’s who engaged in the most dishonest sexual exploitation. However, overall the institutionalised racism, sexism and anti-working class sentiment of the SDS was not criticised, and indeed the SDS managers were praised as they “…performed their duties conscientiously and in the belief that what they were doing was lawful and in the interests of the public. A handful of them undertook tasks which required great skill and courage…” We have to dispute this. The level of surveillance, the amount of personal information contained in reports, the intimate relationships forged by UCO’s and the lives ruined by the impact of vetting and blacklisting does not deserve praise.
The Interim Report fails to address the issue of the effects of blacklisting. Additionally it fails to comment on the monitoring of trade unionists and trade unions. We hope that in the next part of the Inquiry these issues will be addressed.
As stated above there does need to be an examination of and the reasons for the continuation of the SDS beyond 1982.
We argue, on behalf of our clients that that reason for its continuation for another 30 years was because the SDS acted for the security services, and Government and carried on with a project of ‘political policing.’
As we stated in the conclusion in our last submission to the UCPI, “ In their defence, the British establishment claimed to be defending democracy, but it was not a defence of democracy, it was the undermining of democracy in defence of the establishment”
Whilst the Interim Report is a step in the right direction – the jury is still out. We hope that once further disclosure is examined, and live evidence is given by those affected by undercover policing, the UCPI will draw the conclusion it was political policing for ideological reasons.
On Saturday 6th May 2023 we saw for the first time how the police intend to use their new powers to suppress the right to protest. The Public Interest Law Centre are extremely concerned at the arrest of campaigners from the activist group Republic. Their crime? To organise a protest to show their opposition to the Coronation of an unelected head of state. Under the ‘crime’ of potentially causing a ‘public nuisance’ the campaigners had their placards confiscated and they were arrested.
Through a statement issued on the 8th May the Metropolitan Police are now dropping the charges. Nonetheless the threat of arbitrary arrest is now law, and we fear that the new legislation will be used increasingly to criminalise dissent.
A rise in protest.
The recent extension of police powers should concern everyone who cares about the right to protest and the very idea of democracy itself. In our view the reactionary legislative agenda from the Government is a response to the growth in protest in the UK. Increasingly working class people are opposing cuts in wages, jobs and services. Make no mistake, the powers used against the campaigners from ‘Republic’ today will be used with enthusiasm against trade unionists, socialists, environmentalists, anti-monarchy protesters and Palestine activists tomorrow.
The Public Order Act 2023 will see further restrictions to the right to protest by:
Setting a very low threshold to define disruptive protesting
Giving police significant new powers to prevent protests occurring outside of major transport networks, oil and gas and energy supplies. This offence will attract a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.
Introducing a new offence of obstructing major transport works – this offence will attract a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.
Making ‘locking on’ or going equipped to ‘lock-on’ a new criminal offence.
Extending the use of stop and search powers – including suspicion-less stop and search – to protests.
Introducing of new protest banning orders – the Serious Disruptive Prevention Order – that would prevent individuals from attending protests at all.
Enabling the Secretary of State to bring civil proceedings in relation to protest activity where protest action is causing, or is likely to cause, serious disruption to key national infrastructure or access to essential goods or services in England and Wales.
Moving to an authoritarian state?
The latest set of laws come soon after, and on top of, the protest restrictions outlined in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. This Act granted broad and unclear powers to both law enforcement and the Government, allowing them to suppress protests, even those carried out by a single individual. One crucial and worrying phrase allows the right to arrest anyone who the police believe “Intentionally or recklessly [are] causes a public nuisance.” This phrase is used in both Acts and there is a fear it will be interpreted broadly by the police. Protest is by definition public, and can be a ‘nuisance’ for some –that is the nature of protest. Many organisations – specifically Netpol have warned of this.
This further extension of police and state powers are deeply authoritarian.
The impact on campaigners and marginalised groups.
It is not possible here to cover the full and expected impact of the Public Order Bill 2023 and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. We at the Public Interest Law Centre are concerned that the legislation will impact all aspects of protest and campaigning.
For example, the new offence of “interfering with key national infrastructure” will potentially make unlawful the organising of a protest at sites of power, and acting to ‘obstruct’ transport works. It describes unlawful “…any behaviour.” Is this aimed at trade unionists and the right to strike? It cannot be ruled out.
The Public Order Act contains provisions that will widen the stop and search authority, which will inevitably lead to an increase in racial profiling. Currently, black people are subjected to stop and search tactics at a rate seven times higher than white people.
In the United Kingdom, peaceful protest has been a significant tool for expressing views and driving political and social transformation. The proposed Public Order Act 2023 and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 target the very essence of protesting by aiming to criminalise individuals who engage in street demonstrations, or pickets and maybe even street stalls to support a cause they believe in. The Public Interest Law Centre is firmly against these severe measures that aim to suppress dissent and will seek to challenge them legally, and support initiatives to build a national campaign against them.