September 28 2023

Controversial protest law tightened ahead of coronation

Controversial protest law tightened ahead of coronation

A Just Stop Oil protest in London. Image Credit: Just Stop Oil

Ahead of the coronation of King Charles this weekend, the government are under fire for their attempts to curb potentially disruptive protests.

Changes to the Public Order Act, the heavily criticised legislation that boosts police power and dampens protest rights, have been rushed through ahead of the coronation. Specific offences have been defined this week after the amendments were given royal assent on Tuesday, including “locking on” to objects and buildings and blocking roads, airports and railways. The legislative changes were communicated to people considered to be planning anti-monarchy protests at the weekend by letter, informing them that protesting in this way may lead to custodial sentences under the new laws.

Speaking for campaign group, Republic, which was sent one such letter from the Home Office Police Powers Unit, Graham Smith said: ‘We have had two meetings with the Met police, and numerous phone conversations. They have repeatedly said they have no concerns about Republic’s plans. It is a mystery why the Home Office thought it was necessary to send us an anonymous letter that could be interpreted as intimidation.’

‘Republic will not be deterred and we will be protesting on Trafalgar Square and along the route of the coronation procession on Saturday.’

The Metropolitan Police also announced on Wednesday that they may use Live Facial Recognition technology during public coronation events, and that they have a watch list of people that could be identified who may pose a risk to public safety. Campaigners fear this technology could be deployed indiscriminately, or to target people planning peaceful protests. The force said their watch list includes wanted criminals and offenders under strict license conditions.

This development comes amidst widespread criticism of the Public Order Act, which proposed new offences relating to public order, expansion of stop and search powers, and provisions for preventing “protest-related activities”.

In a statement on Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: ‘The public shouldn’t have their daily lives ruined by so called ‘eco-warriors’ causing disruption and wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer money… The selfish minority must not be allowed to get away with this. We are giving our police and courts the tools they need to stop this chaos and I back them in making full use of these powers.’

Speaking in response to these developments, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk described the legislation as “deeply troubling”.

Security Minister Tom Tugenhat was questioned on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday morning about the ability of the police to enact these new laws at such short notice. He said ‘we passed the laws to give police powers they’ve asked for for months. This is not to do with coronation but we’ve seen the nature of protest become so much more disruptive and intrusive.’

He said people would have the liberty to protest, but not to disrupt others.

Campaign group Just Stop Oil have said they will continue to employ “slow marching” as a campaign tactic even after this was quickly outlawed as part of the amendments to the act. They said in a statement: ‘The public order regulations will reintroduce amendments that were voted out of the Public Order Bill, by the House of Lords. This will redefine ‘serious disruption’ to mean anything that is “more than minor hindrance” to daily activities.’

They advised they will be organising a slow march every weekday morning and at midday every Saturday at parliament Square until their demands for no new oil, coal and gas are met.