The Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill has given rise to a wave of ‘Kill the Bill’ protests and demonstrations across the country, and has been criticised for the wider powers it gives to the state in general and more specifically to the police.
The bill extends existing police powers to curb demonstrations including static assemblies. The police will be able to impose conditions on a procession if they believe that the noise produced may ‘result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried out in the vicinity of the procession’ or could have ‘a significant and relevant impact on persons in the vicinity’ which could include ‘serious unease, alarm or distress’. In these circumstances the police can impose any conditions necessary to prevent it. The criteria are vague, and the Home Secretary will have discretion to define these terms. Furthermore the bill extends existing powers to prosecute individuals for breaching those conditions. Currently it is only an offence if it can be proved that the individual intentionally broke the conditions, but under the terms of the bill the prosecution will only need to show that the individual ‘knew or ought to have known’ about the condition. This effectively makes it a strict liability offence which puts anyone at a demonstration at risk of prosecution, and to cap it all the maximum prison term will increase from 3 months to 51 weeks. Other measures include a new public nuisance offence which will include ‘obstructing’ the public in the ‘exercise or enjoyment of a right’ and will carry a maximum sentence of 10 years. There will also be powers to curtail single person protests deemed to be too noisy. In short, the bill will make it much easier for the police to clamp down on any demonstration they or their political masters want to prevent or disrupt.
The bill is not limited to measures to curb public protests. It will be an offence to reside or intend to reside on land without the owner’s consent where this is likely to cause ‘significant disruption, damage or distress’. Penalties include fines up to £2,500 or 3 months in prison as well as seizures of vehicles including cars and caravans. This is clearly aimed at Gypsies and Travellers and threatens those who are forced into using private land due to the limited availability of authorised sites in the UK. It has been criticised as a breach of recognised Traveller rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It also threatens the increasing number of homeless people who have no option but to sleep in cars; the power to seize their vehicles is particularly draconian and robs them of the only accommodation they have. This is a measure that effectively criminalises people for the heinous offence of being poor.
No suite of modern repressive laws is complete without the assistance of big data. Under the guise of preventing and reducing serious violence there will be a new statutory duty for specified authorities such as health care providers, youth services and educational bodies to disclose information when requested by the police. This will override any professional duties of confidentiality and existing data protection rights. To complement this there will also be an expansion of stop and search powers with the introduction of Serious Violence Reduction Orders. This will enable the police to stop and search an individual on the basis of their profile but without the need for any suspicion of a specific office being intended or committed.
The Police Bill comes at the same time as the Borders and Immigration Bill which will effectively criminalise asylum seekers who enter the UK illegally (which is most of them as there are few legal routes) and is widely seen as being incompatible with the Refugee Convention. There is also proposed legislation to limit judicial review, the ability of judges to hold decisions by the State and its bodies as unlawful, such as Johnson’s proroguing of parliament. Not only are existing conventions such as those on refugees and human rights violated, the proposed legislation will also undermine the cherished bourgeois doctrine of separation of powers!
The Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill and the other legislation in progress represent a significant increase in the repressive powers the state is giving itself. Although today’s targets appear to be Extinction Rebellion, Travellers and refugees, ultimately these measures are aimed at the working class. They are an attempt to forestall any fight back as the screws of wage freezes and wage cuts via measures like “fire and rehire” are tightened. The fact that the laws can be amended in this way shows that any so-called rights we are supposed to have can be removed as soon as they appear to threaten the system. Our so-called rights only exist so long as they are not a threat to the capitalist exploitation of the working class and capitalist property.
The fact that our rulers think it is necessary to remove these so-called rights now is an indication of the crisis the entire capitalist system is in, but also of the nervousness of our rulers; a nervousness resulting from their inability to find a way out of the crisis. Instead they chose to outlaw protest against the injustices which the system spawns. This is just another indication that the system which demands continual profit and continual growth needs to be overthrown worldwide and replaced by a system of cooperative production for human need.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 56) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.