What is the Public Order Bill? Anti-monarchy campaigners detained at coronation
The Public Order Bill has again come under scrutiny after anti-monarchy campaigners were detained at the coronation.
The Met Police have expressed their “regret” over the protestor arrests after Home Secretary Suella Braverman fast-tracked new anti-protest laws in the days before the King’s coronation in a bid to stop any issues.
Police were given the powers to head off disruption in the lead-up to the event, and were given additional backing to stop and search anyone they suspected of being a protester for items such as padlocks, superglue and digging tools.
As a result, a number of protestors were arrested in the days leading up to the King’s official crowning.
But what exactly is the Public Order Bill? Here is everything we know.
What is the Public Order Bill?
This aims to grant police new powers, allowing them to take a more “proactive” approach to disruptive protests. This includes making obstructing a major transport network an offence.
The proposed legislation would also create a new criminal offence of interfering with infrastructure, such as airports, railways, and oil refineries. Such an offence would carry sentences of up to 12 months in prison.
The bill would also involve sentences of up to six months or unlimited fines for protesters accused of “locking on” to buildings, objects, or people.
A penalty of up to three years would be given to those tunnelling under infrastructure to cause damage.
What has Suella Braverman said of the new bill?
The Home Secretary Suella Braverman has long expressed opposition to such protests. She told the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham in October that there was “not a human right to vandalise property”.
Braverman was referring specifically to Just Stop Oil’s protests. These involved activists dangling from the Queen Elizabeth II bridge at the Dartford Crossing, causing it to close on October 18, 2022.
In a parliamentary debate, she said: “Yes, I’m afraid, it’s the Labour Party, it’s the Lib Dems, it’s the coalition of chaos, it’s the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati, dare I say, the anti-growth coalition that we have to thank for the disruption that we are seeing on our roads today.”
The bill would stop demonstrators from holding the public “to ransom”, Braverman added.
How are people reacting to the bill?
Following a police apology over the arrests at the coronation, campaigners have hit out at the laws, calling for them to be repealed.
Republic chief executive Graham Smith said the “anti-democratic” laws must be abolished, and dismissed “disgraceful” suggestions that the dozens of arrests were needed to limit disruption on coronation day.
Former cabinet minister David Davis has also said the law is “too broad,” with grey areas causing confusion.
He was the only Conservative MP to vote against the changes to the Public Order Bill, and said today: “There’s too many elements of the law that are too crude and too broadly defined.
“No-one wants a day ruined, but the right to put up placards is virtually absolute in British democracy.”
Former Greater Manchester police chief Sir Peter said he gave evidence in Parliament expressing his concern that the new law was “poorly defined and far too broad”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We see the consequences of that, particularly for the poor police officers who have to make sense of legislation that was only passed a few days ago.”
In January, Extinction Rebellion (XR) members broke into the House of Lords on January 30 to oppose the new Public Order Bill.
Twelve members of the environmental activist group, who were wearing shirts with the message “Defend Human Rights”, disrupted the proceedings.
“The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but this is not absolute,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on January 15.