Freesteel Blog » Criminalising Protest around Parliament

Criminalising Protest around Parliament

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008 at 2:02 pm Written by:

Having known of Brian Haw for some time, and even got a poster onto his display and subsequently into the Tate,[1] I’ve been following the progress of the legislation to ban protest in Parliament.[2]

The first draft of this legislation would have made someone who “spoil[ed] the visual aspect, or otherwise spoil[ed] the enjoyment by members of the public, of any part of the designated area” liable for arrest.[3] According to David Heath MP, this would have meant that “a constable can decide that somebody looks untidy in Parliament square. Furthermore, on that basis they can apply an order with the force of law that excludes that person not just from Parliament square but from a radius of 1 km around Parliament square.”

A hurried rewrite of the law gave us what we have today,[4] which has still led to a lot of arrests[5] and nonsense.[6] Owing to the increasingly evident authoritarian stupidity of this law,[7] the new Prime Minister announced that it was going to be reviewed as soon as he came into office.[8] The public consultation for this review closed on 17 January 2008.[9]

Unfortunately, the documentation (Command Paper 7235) provided to the public for the consultation was so bad it took me a long time to realize that something could be done about it. You’d think that if the Home Secretary wrote: “We need to review sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 soberly. We need to focus on what the legislation actually does…,” then somewhere in the next 30 pages it would bother to mention how many arrests and notifications to hold demonstrations had been made under the Act during the brief two years it had been in operation.

Look, you are holding this “review” because there have been problems! Tell us what is the scale of the problems!

Instead of mentioning any the supposed problems, and raising for consideration the simple and popular measure of just repealing the law that no one needs and no one wants, the Home Office consultation document suggested that the issue was partly a lack of harmonisation with the right to protest elsewhere and posing needlessly leading questions, such as:

Q7: Do you agree that conditions in order to prevent a security risk of hindrance to the operation of Parliament should remain in relation to demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament?

while neglecting to mention that there have been numerous laws in operation prior to August 2005 covering the security and the functioning of Parliament during across centuries of democratic democratic without such a ridiculous restrictions to demonstration, which this law has nothing to do with. The sole point of this law was to remove Brian Haw.[10] He wasn’t removed.[11] Can we just have our rights back?

At the very least, we should have the information. On 7 January 2008 I filed an FOI request, which said:[12]

Dear Sir or Madam,

I have recently read the 31 page consultation document titled: “Managing Protest Around Parliament” detailing a review of sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

This document fails to make any mention of the high-profile incidents relating to these sections, including a variety of arrests and judicial actions.

I am therefore requesting a copy of–

* all statistics relating to the written notices to the Commissioner under section 133,

* all statistics relating to the authorisations given by the Commissioner under section 134, and

* all reports relating to arrests, prosecutions, and other judicial actions for offences under these sections;

that are available to the Public Order Unit of the Home Office which is overseeing the process of review.

Yours etc.

Scroll down on the FOI request page to find the 34 pages they sent back, which I scanned and uploaded onto the web. Mark Thomas’s Mass Lone Demonstration on 20 December 2006 takes up four pages. I’ve put in a follow-up for the 2007 data, which appears missing. Other than that, it’s all there, with all its silliness. Someone who is keeping track of the arrests[13] should be able to cross reference with the data that is there now.

I’d also like to know if anyone is similarly outraged at the quality of the consultation document, which I think is worse than any of those produced by the Government when it was trying to push GM food down our throats. There are supposedly standards to these consultation exercises.[14] If this document doesn’t breach those guidelines, then the guidelines themselves aren’t good enough.

Any consultation about a change in the law must include a fair summary of how the current law that there are proposals to change has actually been applied.

This month the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Security and Counter-terrorism, Admiral Alan William John West, Baron West of Spithead, reported that there had been 500 or so responses to this consultation.[15] During the discussion, the military politician added:

I have some experience of the demonstration there. Before I joined the House, I was in full uniform in my car and the demonstrator came up and accused me of being a fascist warmonger. I think I proved that I was a peacemaker because my Royal Marine colour sergeant who was driving me said, “Shall I put him straight, sir?”, and I said, “No, just remain sitting where you are”.

After all, when you have “Parliamentary sovereignty” and “the rule of law” on your side, there are better ways for an Admiral to cleanse the streets of unsightly displays of anti-militarism than allowing his chauffeur to create an embarrassing scene in public.

As to whether he really is a “fascist warmonger”, we would have to discuss the nature of his visits “on the ground in Iraq a number of times over the past four years,”[16] for if they were for tourism or to visit friends and family in Basra, that would be fine. But if it was in his capacity as a commanding officer during a brutal military occupation[17] following an unprovoked invasion of a foreign country the UK has absolutely no business being in,[18] then the facts are unequivocal.

Footnotes

4 Comments

  • 1. Youtube » Criminali&hellip replies at 12th February 2008, 3:58 pm :

    […] 12 Feb 2008 Criminalising Protest around Parliament Posted by under Uncategorized  Freesteel wrot […]

  • 2. Wikipedia » Crimina&hellip replies at 12th February 2008, 3:59 pm :

    […] Protest around Parliament February 12, 2008 on 7:02 am | In Uncategorized | Freesteel wrot […]

  • 3. rikki replies at 13th February 2008, 1:03 am :

    thanks for your FOI request and sharing the info.

    you say “other than that, it’s all there” but on the pages i downloaded there are quite a few blcked out bits.

    have these been censored?

    is there any explanation of the censorship?

    cheers

    rikki

  • 4. Julian replies at 13th February 2008, 10:41 am :

    It says in the letter:
    http://foi.mysociety.org/request/11/response/38
    that it has been redacted under the data protection act.

    Even so, the numbers don’t add up. In the discussion here:
    http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2008/02/socpa_documents.asp
    there seems to be too few protests for 31 August 2006.

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