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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Wildlife groups urge MPs to back protest amendments to crime bill | Law

Bumblebee and butterfly conservationists are among dozens of environmental groups calling on MPs to back amendments removing powers to curtail protest from the government’s crime bill.

They are among 32 signatories to a letter urging all MPs to back amendments by the Lords that removed clauses giving powers to police to impose restrictions on protests considered too noisy, and to place conditions on static rallies and one-person protests.

“Defending these freedoms and liberties is an essential part of ensuring our environment is protected and enhanced, and our international commitments adhered to,” the letter says. “Like our most precious habitats, once damaged they are difficult to recover.”

Since its introduction at the beginning of last year, the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, a wide-ranging piece of crime legislation, has faced opposition from human rights organisations and protest groups over its proposals to curb peaceful protest.

Why protesters are worried about the police and crime bill – video report
Why protesters are worried about the police and crime bill – video report

A campaign of public protests under the banner “kill the bill” took place across the UK, bringing together a diverse range of protest groups. In Bristol, protests spilled over into conflict between protesters and police, for which a number of people are now facing charges of riot.

After a delayed passage through the Commons, the Lords, heavily lobbied by civil rights groups, proposed a number of amendments removing some of the most controversial anti-protest measures, and was able to vote down a number of other powers criticised as excessively draconian.

On Monday, MPs will have their chance to consider peers’ amendments. The justice secretary, Dominic Raab, has already promised to revive a number of measures in the Commons, leaving the stage set for ping-pong between the two houses before the bill can be signed into law.

Friends of the Earth coordinated the letter to MPs and signatories also include organisations working to protect wetlands, frogs, dolphins and bats, development organisations such as Cafod and Save the Children, and the Women’s Institute.

The Ramblers, the organisation often credited with the most successful direct action in modern history, is also among the signatories; its mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932 is said to have led to the creation of the UK’s national parks and walkers’ right to roam.

“History has shown that protest is vital to ensure change happens at the scale and speed required,” the letter says. “Without citizens able to hold decision makers to account, strong policies to address the climate and nature emergencies are less likely to be forthcoming and targets more likely to be missed.

“Defending these freedoms and liberties is an essential part of ensuring our environment is protected and enhanced, and our international commitments adhered to. Like our most precious habitats, once damaged they are difficult to recover.”

“Giving the police power to restrict protests based on noise could unreasonably suppress many non-violent assemblies and marches, and have a chilling effect on free speech,” the letter says.

“This has nothing to do with the sort of ‘highly disruptive’ protest ministers have repeatedly pointed to, and the police already have the powers against intimidation and harassment.

“The new power would be open to abuse and confusion, with the targets of protests claiming that noise levels cause ‘serious unease’ to encourage the police to act against protests they find inconvenient or embarrassing.”

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