The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) put in place laws to establish the Serious Organised Crime Agency amongst other things. Thrown into the pot and receiving little public attention at the time was a series of measures restricting freedom to protest in England and Wales. The SOCPA ban on unauthorised protest around Parliament is perhaps the most controversial of a number of recent measures that limit freedom of expression - to be able to protest outside Parliament without permission from the police is something we must once again be able to due without fear of repression.
In 2007 Gordon Brown announced that the restrictions on protest around Parliament would be repealed. There was a government consultation, parliamentary committees recommending the repeal of Section 132-138 of SOCPA and various proposed legislation but no actual repeal!
In 2011 the repeal of s132 of SOCPA was finally passed as part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (PRASRA). However, this Act includes new restrictions on protest around Parliament that outlaw overnight protests and the use of loudhailers, and are already being taken up by other authorities to restrict protest.
Meanwhile other SOCPA restrictions on protest around military bases and other sites are likely to remain in place although there are also calls for them to be amended.
see more on the SOCPA legislation that restricts protest
see more on repealing the SOCPA legislation
Tuesday 6 March and Wednesday 7 March 2012, 10.30am, Court 3, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London: High Court asked to determine legality of new anti-protest laws. Concern that restrictions on protest around Parliament could become national.
The case is being brought by Maria Gallastegui, a peace campaigner, against the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police and Westminster Council who all seek to apply the new restrictions on protest that came into force in December 2011 under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (PRASRA).
The outcome of the case is of national significance: not only will the restrictions apply to a large area around the centre of decision-making at Parliament, but local authorities have been given powers to adopt similar legislation.
The result could be that any long-term protest, such as Brian Haw’s peace campaign or Occupy at St Pauls, may become unlawful across the UK. Consultations have already taken place on the inclusion of similar restrictions in new byelaws by Westminster Council, the Greater London Authority and the Home Office. This suggests that a blanket ban on protest covering more than a day is likely to be put into effect throughout a large area around Parliament.
Read the full press release
16 January 2012: The High Court rules that it will allow a judicial review of the PRASRA restrictions to be heard in March.
See here for a court report
The court extends the injunction against Westminster Council acting to remove the claimant (Maria Gallestegui) until the judicial review in March. However, tents and other equipment from other campaigners in Parliament Square were removed in a huge police operation the same evening, as they are unprotected by the injunction.
15 January 2012:
There is concern that new byelaws being drafted by Westminster Council, the GLA and the Government are seeking to extend the restrictions under PRASRA to a much wider area.
See details here
December 2011: PRASRA restrictions on protest in force while the repeal of SOCPA not until March 2012
Protesters in Parliament Square have received notice to leave while they remain authorised to continue their demonstrations under SOCPA until March 2012. Why is the repeal of s132 of SOCPA delayed! The protesters successfully get an injunction against action being taken against them until January.
September 2011: The new restrictions on protest around Parliament are passed through Parliament and given Royal Assent See here
See more on the concerns about the new legislation
February 2011: Despite a number of serious concerns raised by Liberty, others and from within the committee, the Public Bill Committee on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill votes though the restrictions on protest around Parliament included in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
See the committee debates and submissions of written evidence
February 2011: on 30 and 31 March 2011, the House of Commons will be debating the clauses in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill that propose new laws restricting protest.
This legislation would put in place unaccountable and disproportionate measures.
"However as with the original SOCPA provisions, these proposals in this Bill
similarly, sinisterly and disproportionately target particular protests and protesters."
"Given the powers currently on the statute book, the Government has yet to
argue convincingly that parliamentarians need additional protections from peaceful
protest. It goes almost without saying that protests will commonly have the effect of
irritating those they seek to influence and, from time to time, inadvertently
inconveniencing those they do not. But when framing restrictions to the right to
protest, irritation and inconvenience must not be seen as a trump card. While lengthy
and noisy protests obviously have the power to cause greater embarrassment to the
Executive this is no reason for making possession of loudspeakers and sleeping
equipment a criminal act."
Contact your MP and ask them to raise these issues in the debate. See more here.
January 2011: THE GOOD NEWS: The repeal of Section 132-138 of SOCPA is introduced (again) in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
THE BAD NEWS: the Bill also proposes new laws restricting protest around Parliament that are unaccountable and disproportionate.
Any ‘authorised person’ can use ‘reasonable force’ against a member of the public to make them comply with a 'direction' to stop a 'prohibited activity' (having/using a tent/sleeping equipment/amplified noise). What would effectively be on-the-spot injunctions could not be challenged, must be complied with immediately, can be long-standing and lead to a criminal conviction and a heavy fine if not complied with.
What to do
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill Committee are inviting submissions (by 17 February) which can be emailed in.
Write to your MP about your concerns and ask them to raise them when the Bill is debated in the House of Commons – www.writetothem.com
See more on the proposals and what to do about them here.
April 2010: The proposed repeal of section 132 of SOCPA has been abandoned as Parliament dissolves in advance of the general election. Back to square one. see here
See changing the law for the full history
"I am outraged that the centuries old
right to protest outside Parliament has been changed to a 'right
to protest with police permission'. This change has been extended
to other places in Britain too. I am going to introduce legislation
to try and force a Government rethink on this...It has
made the normal law abiding citizen wary of holding a placard
or marching in the wrong place in case they get a criminal record.
That is a shocking state of affairs for a country that used
to pride itself on its democracy."
9 Jan 08: Parliamentarians from across the political parties teamed up with Walter Wolfgang, Mark Thomas and Mark Wallinger among others to hand in a petition as a response to the Government's consultation on the controversial law banning unauthorised protest near Parliament. Organised by Repeal SOCPA. See press release, reports and see film.
Baroness Miller, the Lib Dem
peer who introduced the Public Demonstrations (repeals) Bill.
“The Serious Organised Crime
and Police Act is a very good example of unscrutinised,
and under-discussed legislation ... civilians with no criminal
intent ... have suffered receiving a criminal offence simply
because they have expressed their views within 1 kilometre
of the Houses of Parliament.”
Baroness Williams (Lib Dem)
“When I pass protestors every day
at Downing Street, and believe me, you name it, they protest
against it, I may not like what they call me, but I thank
God they can. That's called freedom."
Tony Blair 7/04/2002. Three years later his government introduced the SOCPA restrictions on protest.