December 4, 2021, 8:30

    Fury as Tories introduce ‘outrageous’ laws that could jail protesters for a year

    Fury as Tories introduce ‘outrageous’ laws that could jail protesters for a year

    Tory ministers have been blasted for trying to pass “outrageous” new anti-protest laws at a late stage of a Bill.

    Priti Patel’s Home Office was accused of a “naked attack on civil liberties” over measures proposed in a midnight Lords debate.

    New offences would impose up to a year’s jail on protesters who lock themselves to railings, gates or other objects.

    They would impose similar terms on activists who “wilfully” obstruct highways or the construction of major works like HS2.

    Courts would get powers to impose “prevention orders” on protesters’ future behaviour, even if they’re not convicted of a crime.

    And police would get sweeping new powers to stop and search protesters, even without suspicion a crime was committed.

    The powers were unveiled by Priti Patel's Home Office

    BBC/AFP via Getty Images)

    Insulate Britain activists could be jailed for a year – and the new law would apply much more widely than just the anti-climate group


    An officer above a certain rank could search anyone if they “reasonably believe” an offence “may be committed” nearby.

    Such offences could include chaining oneself to a gate, blocking a road or “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”.

    Home Office minister Baroness Williams said the offences were needed to stop the “reckless and selfish tactics” of groups like Insulate Britain.

    But a leading human rights barrister branded the new powers “sinister” while Labour said they were “unacceptable”.

    They would target people who chain themselves to gates, such as Will Young, pictured at a puppy breeding facility


    Ministers were criticised for attaching them to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which MPs have already approved.

    The amendments were raised in the House of Lords, meaning they will get a vote by MPs if passed, but only in last-minute “ping-pong” rather than going into detailed scrutiny.

    Baroness Williams withdrew the amendments from an early hours debate on Thursday in the face of peers’ fury.

    But she warned she will re-table them in a new Lords debate in a few weeks.

    She told peers recent events showed “the balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of others tips far too far in favour of the protesters".

    Metropolitan Police officers remove Insulate Britain climate activists from a M25 slip road

    In Pictures via Getty Images)

    She added: "We cannot have sections of our transport infrastructure or other critical infrastructure brought to a halt by a small group of protesters, whatever their cause.

    "We accept some level of disruption is to be accepted and tolerated from protest action, but there is a line to be drawn.

    "Insulate Britain, Extinction Rebellion and others have overstepped that line."

    She added: "This suite of new measures is necessary to protect the public from the unacceptable levels of disruption we have seen as a result of the reckless and selfish tactics employed by some protest organisations in recent weeks.”

    Extinction Rebellion demonstrators marching through London in protest against the "failure" of the COP26 climate change conference

    SIPA USA/PA Images)

    But human rights barrister Adam Wagner said: “These amendments hugely increase the power of the police and public authorities to prevent protests, disrupt activities at protests and restrict the activities of protesters.

    “As always with laws restricting freedom of speech, it is useful to imagine them being used to prevent the expression of views you care deeply about.

    “These laws are so generalised they could seriously disrupt any protest movement, if the government or police want to.”

    He said they will “very significantly limit the right to protest”, adding: “The government will say these are a response to Insulate Britain but in reality these are aimed at any large-scale disruptive protest.”

    Lib Dem peer Lord Paddick, a former senior Met Police officer, said the “outrageous proposals” introduced “in a wholly unacceptable way at the last minute”.

    Labour peer Baroness Chakrabarti said it “tastes to me a lot like anti-terror legislation of the kind that I have always opposed as being disproportionate and counterproductive."

    Green Party peer Baroness Jones said: "This is nothing more than a naked attack against civil liberties and a crackdown on protest and we must oppose it for both what it is and how it's been done."

    Shadow attorney general Lord Falconer accused the government of “excluding debate” by introducing 18 pages of new law at a late stage of the Bill.

    Labour frontbencher Lord Kennedy condemned Insulate Britain tactics but added: “This is no way to do business.”

    He added: “Although we are responding to one particularly crass protest, the law being debated would not just apply to that one crass protest but all peaceful protests.”

    Pressing the Government to "temper" the measures, he said: "I think at the moment they are totally unacceptable”.

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