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‘Freedom to protest is a fundamental principle but not absolute’: UK PM Rishi Sunak announces measures to clamp down disruptive protests

"Before Christmas, I promised to better support law enforcement to stop disruptive protests. Today, this government has delivered on that promise," Sunak tweeted. The changes in the Public Order Bill seek to empower police and grant them greater power to clamp down on protests.

The UK government, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, announced new measures to curb protests, expanding the situations in which police can take action to prevent significant disruption.

Recent protests on environmental issues have caused major disruptions in central London and blocked traffic on major roads, leading to calls for increased police authority. The government passed legislation in 2022 to address this menace, but it now plans to enact the Public Order Bill, which has been met with criticism from civil rights groups for being anti-democratic and granting too much power to the police.

On Monday, Rishi Sunak took to Twitter to announce that his government is moving to amend laws that would grant police greater power to clamp down on disruptive protests.

“Before Christmas, I promised to better support law enforcement to stop disruptive protests. Today, this government has delivered on that promise,” Sunak tweeted.

The government intends to amend the bill before it becomes law to broaden the definition of ‘serious disruption’, grant police more discretion, and clarify when the new powers can be used.

The government plans to expand the definition of “serious disruption” through an amendment to the Public Order Bill, providing the police with more discretion and clarity on when to intervene against individuals or groups who use tactics such as blocking roads and slow marching to cause disruption to the public, Sunak informed.

Despite the government granting additional powers to the police to prevent protestors from using guerrilla tactics, police leaders have informed the Prime Minister that there is confusion over what constitutes a “serious disruption.”

Clarifying the conundrum faced by the police, Sunak laid down conditions on when they should step in. They are as follows:-

  • Police will not need to wait for disruption to take place and can shut protests down before chaos erupts
  • Police will not need to treat a series of protests by the same group as standalone incidents but will be able to consider their total impact
  • Police will be able to consider long-running campaigns designed to cause repeat disruption over a period of days or weeks

The government claims that if the new legislation is approved, it will empower the police to take action to end disruptive protests before they occur.

The proposed bill also includes the criminalization of actions such as attaching oneself to objects or buildings and granting courts the ability to limit the rights of certain protesters to prevent significant disruption. It expands upon the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act passed in April 2022, which led to several large-scale protests against the bill.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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