The past week has seen certain new police powers under the Public Order Act 2023 exercised for the first time against protesters.
61 Just Stop Oil protestors were arrested on Monday on a road outside parliament for the new offence of ‘interference with national infrastructure. On Tuesday, protestors chained to the drone manufacturer Elbit Systems were arrested under the offence of ‘locking on’. Additional arrests were made later in the week after further protest action by Just Stop Oil, bringing the total arrests under the new interference with infrastructure provision to 112 as of Friday evening.
Amnesty International have similarly warned that these new offences could have a ‘chilling effect’ on protest. Netpol, who monitor policing, have said these new powers let police “immediately shut down a protest and criminalise everyone involved. That is what makes these new offences so repressive.”
Similarly, the human rights group Liberty has expressed concern about the broad scope of these powers. The ‘locking on’ offence in for example, includes a provision which criminalises ‘being equipped for locking on’, which was used against Republic protesters during the King’s coronation. Liberty has also noted that the new offence against infrastructure interference could have an impact on industrial action in certain industries, as well as protests in the vicinity of power stations.