repeal SOCPA | 05.03.2012 23:34 | SOCPA
5 March 2012
Restrictions on protest around Parliament could become national - High Court asked to determine legality of new anti-protest laws
Tuesday 6 March and Wednesday 7 March 2012, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London.
Tomorrow the High Court will determine if the new restrictions on protest around Parliament can be challenged by judicial review.
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). (1)
Ms Gallastegui, who has been conducting an authorised protest against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2006, applied for an injunction to stop the removal of her peace boxes and tent until the case could be heard in court.
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. (2)
The new restrictions on protest under PRASRA were brought in to replace the controversial ban on unauthorised demonstrations under the Serious Organisation Crime and Police Act 2005. (3) However, the new laws have also raised a number of significant concerns, including the introduction of powers that allow any ‘authorised officer’ (e.g. council officials) to use ‘reasonable force’ against a member of the public. (4)
The claimant’s arguments include that the new restrictions are incompatible with the Human Rights Act on a number of grounds. The reasons given for the new legislation – that the protests spoil the view and affect the public use of Parliament Square - do not constitute a legitimate justification to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in a location which is central to political debate.
Furthermore, in applying an absolute ban on protests involving any sleeping equipment and/or amplified noise equipment around Parliament, the new law is disproportionate. Such bans have a chilling effect on protest and the free expression of political views, as witnessed under the ban on unauthorised protest around Parliament imposed the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (due to be repealed on 31 March 2012)
The claimant will also argue that her rights under Article 6 of the Human Rights Act, relating to a right to a fair and public hearing, have been violated as PRASRA provides no judicial mechanism for reviewing the individual circumstances of the case prior to the enforcement of the law and substantial criminal sanctions.
Tuesday 6 March and Wednesday 7 March 2012, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London
Maria Gallastegui is represented by Bindmans
1. Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (PRASRA) sections 142-149 were enacted on December 19th http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/13/part/3/enacted
PRASRA allows the police or ‘authorised officers’ to confiscate sleeping equipment and effectively ban overnight protests. Anyone seen with sleeping equipment could be arrested and have a court order made against them, for an unlimited period, to ban them from the area. They would receive a criminal conviction and possibly a heavy fine. The new legislation will also outlaw any form of ‘amplified noise’ such as megaphones which organisers of demonstrations rely on for conveying the message of their protest.
2. Westminster draft new byelaws to restrict protest in the area of Parliament, Whitehall etc
and Dept for Culture, Media and Sport draft new byelaws to restrict protest in Royal Parks and other open spaces
and the GLA draft new byelaws
3. See www.repeal-socpa.info for more information
4. During PRASRA’s passage through Parliament concerns were raised about many expects of the legislation including the dangerous precedent set by giving any ‘authorised officer’ (e.g. council officials) power to use ‘reasonable force’ against a member of the public. See for example, Liberty’s Second Reading Briefing on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill in the House of Commons, December 2010