What is the Public Order Bill that would clamp down on ‘disruptive’ protests?


ournalists are to set to be given extra protection from being arrested at protests, through an amendment to the Public Order Bill.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman will propose changes after arrests of reporters at a Just cease Oil demonstration drew condemnation.

Braverman will introduce an amendment to the Public Order Bill, after peers had voted through a change to cease those reporting on protests from being subject to police action.

It comes after a backlash against the arrests of LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch, the press photographer Tom Bowles, the film-maker Rich Felgate, and another photographer, Ben Cawthra, by Hertfordshire police while they were covering climate protests on the M25.

The police later apologised to the journalists and an enquiry, commissioned by the Hertfordshire force, concluded that “police powers were not used appropriately”. Following legal action by one of the journalists, the force admitted its actions were unlawful.

The Government initially resisted the amendment, saying it was unnecessary as the police had conceded that their actions were unlawful. However, peers raised concerns that this was based on senior officers having ordered the arrests, rather than officers exercising their own judgment – and argued that this was not specifically covered in legislation.

Under the changes, journalists will now be protected from arrest at future protests.

A Government spokesman said: “The Government is clear that the role of members of the press must be respected and that they are able to carryout their job freely without restriction. We remain of the view that this amendment is unnecessary as it is already unlawful for the police to exercise their powers on journalists or any person where there is no legitimate need to carryout so.”

Others acquire also been against the bill.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) members broke into the House of Lords on January 30 to oppose the modern Public Order Bill.

Twelve members of the environmental activist group, who were wearing shirts with the message “Defend Human Rights”, disrupted the proceedings.

Doormen and security guards took them out of the upper chamber. The unrest resulted in a brief adjournment of proceedings, but no arrests were made.

The bill is currently in its final stages of debate in Parliament. However, before it becomes enshrined in law, the Government wants to broaden the definition of “serious disruption”.

Its definition will determine when and to what extent police could use their modern powers to deal with protesters.

“The accurate to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but this is not absolute,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on January 15.

“We cannot acquire protests conducted by a small minority disrupting the lives of the ordinary public. It’s not acceptable and we’re going to bring it to an cease.”

He was referring to activists smearing chocolate cake on the waxwork of King Charles III; spray-painting shopfronts; throwing tomato soup at one of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings; and disrupting traffic in key areas.

But what exactly is the Public Order Bill? Here is everything we know.

What is the Public Order Bill?

This aims to grant police modern powers, allowing them to catch a more “proactive” approach to disruptive protests. This includes making obstructing a considerable transport network an offence.

The proposed legislation would also create a modern criminal offence of interfering with infrastructure, such as airports, railways, and oil refineries. Such an offence would carry sentences of up to 12 months in prison.

Several activists were arrested after the Just cease Oil protests in November 2022

/ PA Wire

The bill would also involve sentences of up to six months or unlimited fines for protesters accused of “locking on” to buildings, objects, or people.

A penalty of up to three years would be given to those tunnelling under infrastructure to cause damage.

What has Suella Braverman said of the modern bill?

The Home Secretary Suella Braverman has long expressed opposition to such protests. She told the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham in October that there was “not a human accurate to vandalise property”.

Braverman was referring specifically to Just cease Oil’s protests. These involved activists dangling from the Queen Elizabeth II bridge at the Dartford Crossing, causing it to close on October 18, 2022.

In a parliamentary debate, she said: “Yes, I’m afraid, it’s the activity Party, it’s the Lib Dems, it’s the coalition of chaos, it’s the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati, dare I say, the anti-growth coalition that we acquire to thank for the disruption that we are seeing on our roads today.”

The bill would cease demonstrators from holding the public “to ransom”, Braverman added.

How are people reacting to the bill?

While some people agree with the need to prevent protests that disrupt the life of many, especially if it leads to tragedies, others believe the plod is anti-democratic and gives the police too much power.

“The police already acquire adequate powers to arrest people and plod them on,” Shami Chakrabarti CBE, a House of Lords peer, a activity Party member, and the director of the human-rights advocacy group Liberty, told BBC Radio.

“This, I alarm, is about treating all peaceful dissent as effectively terrorism.”

In the first setback for the bill in the Lords, in January, peers backed by 243 votes to 221, majority 22, a higher threshold before police can intervene in protests with a stricter definition of “serious disruption”.

Later, a Government-backed plod to prevent protesting “an issue of current debate” being used as a reasonable defence for offences such as locking-on, tunnelling, and blocking roads was narrowly rejected by 224 votes to 221.

The defeats set the stage for a tussle between the unelected chamber and the Commons over the proposed law, known as parliamentary ping-pong.