The House of Lords dealt another blow to the anti-protest Public Order Bill yesterday, 7 February. The Peers voted down several amendments in the controversial Bill, including one that would allow police to stop and search without suspicion. An amendment to introduce greater protection for journalists and other protesters also received significant support. The Bill will now return to the Commons.
During a debate in the upper chamber, concerns were raised about the impact the current Bill could have on freedom of speech and the ability to protest. Lord Brian Paddick, who served as Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner until 2007, said: “Coupled with the power to stop and search without suspicion, this could result in many innocent people being stopped, searched and potentially arrested for being in possession of commonplace objects”.
The Peers did not vote on several amendments. This includes amendment 46, which allows for individuals to be stopped and searched if they appeared ‘suspicious.’
In recent years, disruptive protests have raised questions about the impact protests can have on the economy and public safety. The 2022 Just Stop Oil protest cost the Police £5.9 million within only a few months. Extinction Rebellion’s protest in October 2019 required over 418,000 police officer hours. Such disruption has led to calls for a tougher approach to protesters. According to the Policy paper Public Order Bill: factsheet published by the Government, current proposals will only prevent a small minority of individuals from causing serious disruption to the daily lives of the public.
Still, key human rights and civil liberties organisations have strongly criticised the current Bill and its response to these events. JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights charity, pointed out that the Bill is unlikely to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. In reaction to yesterday’s outcome, Stephanie Draper, CEO at Bond, the UK network of NGOs, said: “At a time when the right to protest is under attack around the world, the government should be setting a positive example to countries that have clamped down on civic space”.