Thank you to all those who contacted me about the Government’s Public Order Bill.
The Public Order Bill will create new offences including in relation to locking on, going equipped to lock on, and obstructing national infrastructure. The Bill will also extend stop and search powers and introduce serious disruption prevention orders (SDPOs).
The Bill was subject to several amendments in the House of Lords including removing powers to administer SDPOs other than on conviction, limiting renewal of SDPOs, and preventing the 24/7 GPS monitoring condition attached to SDPOs. With Opposition support, the House of Lords also amended the Government’s plans to allow stop and search without suspicion for items that could be used to commit a protest-related offence.
The Bill returned to the House of Lords for consideration on 14 March 2023. I believe the Government should have used this opportunity to address the challenges emerging from recent protests.
The Public Order Bill is the Government’s second bill relating to public order even though it has apparently shelved the much-needed Victims Law, which was first promised several years ago. I believe the Government seems more focused on divisive, headline-grabbing policies rather than dealing with the people’s priorities, such as the appallingly low charge rates for rape and sexual offences.
While it is of course important to safeguard vital national infrastructure, the right to protest peacefully must also be safeguarded. The police and courts already have powers to deal with serious disruption or dangerous protests, and these powers have been used frequently to deal with recent disruptive protests including locking on and blocking roads.
I also recognise concerns that the threshold for triggering the new offences and SDPOs is too low and casts the net too wide, risking legitimate, peaceful protests and non-criminal action falling within their scope.