European human rights commissioner urges MPs and peers not to back protest curbs

·3-min read

A Bill that could place time and noise limits on protests may have a “significant impact” on freedom of expression as it stands, according to Europe’s human rights commissioner.

Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s human rights tsar, has written to urge MPs and peers not to approve measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – which she said could be interpreted as trying to “introduce restrictions on peaceful demonstrations”.

The draft legislation is due to go through its remaining stages in the House of Commons on Monday before being considered by the Lords.

If the controversial Bill clears Parliament, time and noise limits could be imposed as a result of the measures and those convicted could face a fine or jail.

The commissioner, in a two-page letter to Speakers of both the Commons and the Lords, urged UK parliamentarians not to approve elements of the legislation relating to changes to protests.

The Bosnian politician said that since taking up her post in 2018 with the 47-nation Council of Europe – of which the UK remains a member despite exiting the European Union – there had been growing attempts to “minimise the possibility of dissent” among member states.

In her letter, the Strasbourg-based official added: “I have increasingly had to address instances in which Council of Europe member states have tried to introduce restrictions on peaceful demonstrations, often implicitly driven by the desire of governments to minimise the possibility of dissent.

“I am seriously concerned that, if the above-mentioned provisions were to be adopted, the UK would add to this worrying trend.

“In the light of this, I call on the members of both Houses not to accept provisions of the Bill that would add further restrictions on peaceful demonstrations.”

Demonstrations, which have used the slogan “Kill the Bill”, have been held in cities around England in response to the legislation, amid fears it would curtail the right to protest, with police given new powers to shut down demonstrations over noise concerns.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report last month raising concerns about the proposals, in which it calls for some clauses to be completely removed.

Ms Mijatovic’s letter will heap international pressure, as well as domestic, on Boris Johnson’s administration to water down the measures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under pressure to water down the potential curbs on protests
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under pressure to water down the potential curbs on protests (Commons/PA)

In her letter, the former London School of Economics student also raised concerns over the impact the Bill could have on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities – a complaint also made by MPs and peers on the Joint Committee.

The commissioner said the Bill would expand enforcement measures, allowing authorities to place bans on returning to land for extended periods and permitting the seizure of property, which “may even include the vehicles in which community members live.

It comes as campaign groups said they handed a petition, which gained nearly 600,000 signatures, to the Government against measures proposed in the Bill.

A Government spokesman said: “The right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy, but the Government will not tolerate a small minority impacting the rights of others to go about their business without unnecessary disruption.

“The police have been clear that public order legislation is out of date and have stated their support for further powers that will allow them to better manage the highly disruptive tactics used by protest groups today.

“Indeed, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has previously written to the Home Secretary following Extinction Rebellion protests, highlighting the need for legislation to be updated.”

The spokesman added: “The threshold on the use of power to impose conditions on noise at a protest is high and will only be used where necessary and proportionate. The police will only be able to impose conditions on unjustifiably noisy protests that cause harm to others or prevent an organisation from operating.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting