MPs warn new protest laws risk ‘chilling effect’ on democratic rights

The joint committee on human rights (JCHR), following legislative scrutiny of the public law, warns that new policing powers could create a hostile environment for peaceful protestors.

Designed to combat disruptive protests, the draft legislation would instead have a “chilling effect” on the right to peaceful protest, putting fundamental democratic rights at risk.

The bill was introduced by the government to give police in England and Wales greater power to deal with peaceful, but disruptive protests. This bill adds to the changes made to the Law on Protest by the Police, Crime, and Sentenncing Courts Act 2022, which was previously criticized by the committee for threatening the right of protest.

It includes new criminal offences for ‘locking-on’ or disrupting transport works and national infrastructure, greater powers for stop and search, and would Make Serious Disruption Prevention Orders. 


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The report highlights the fact that freedom of expression and freedom to gather are protected by Articles 10, 11 and 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government should revise the bill in order to ensure these rights are protected. rights are respected. 

The committee warns that the new offenses are too broad and vague and could include acts of protest covered by human rights law. “Locking-on” could encompass actions as simple as linking arms withAnother person would be sent to prison for up to 51 weeks. Obstructing major Transport Works covers actions that are not or are not intended to cause significant disruption. Interfering with national infrastructure could be a crime a violation of infrastructure that is neither critical nor national.   

Draft legislation, as it stands, shifts the burden on the defendant to prove their actions were reasonable. This is an interference with the presumption that innocence. The bill should be amended to remove the right to fair trial and the right of a jury. 

Police would be able to search without reasonable suspicion using new stop-and-search powers.

These powers were previously only used to respond to terrorist attacks or serious violence, but the bill would allow them to be used peacefully. protestors at risk of arbitrary, discriminatory and invasive treatment.

Serious Disruption Prevention Orders can be used to prevent people from exercising their rights to protest. They also represent adisproportionate response to peaceful disruption may cause. 

Joanna Cherry QC MP, Acting Chair of the JCHR Joanna Cherry QC MP, published the report. “The right to peaceful protest is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy, it should be protected. The law must strike the right balance between peaceful protest and the prevention from disruption to the wider community. This requires While this is a balanced approach, the government has decided to respond to disruptive protests by taking a blunderbuss approach to the problem.

She continued: “The right to protest is too important to be chipped away at. The government must revisit this bill and ensure it fully respects one of our key democratic principles.”

Home secretary Priti Patel said of the bill last month: “What we have seen in recent years is a rise in criminal, disruptive and self-defeating guerrilla tactics, carried out by a selfish few in the name of protest.

“This bill backs the police to take proactive action and prevent such disruption happening in the first place. These measures stand up for the responsible majority and it is time that parliament got behind them,” she went on.

Adam Wagner, a barrister who represents protesters regularly, spoke to MPs earlier this month that the plans would not deter more extreme protesters from groups such as Insulate Britain– but would deter the average person from attending peaceful protests.