A Crackdown on Illegal Protest Methods
The UK government has introduced new legislation aimed at curbing the use of face coverings and pyrotechnics in protests. This move, part of the Criminal Justice Bill, comes in response to police chiefs’ concerns about the rising trend of protesters using these methods to intimidate and evade legal repercussions.
Face Coverings and Arrest Powers
Under the new laws, police officers will have enhanced powers to arrest individuals who wear face coverings to threaten others or avoid prosecution. Those who defy police orders to remove face coverings at designated protests face a potential one-month jail sentence and a £1,000 fine.
Banning Pyrotechnics in Protests
In addition to the face-covering regulations, the use of flares and other pyrotechnics will be banned at protests. These measures follow incidents where pyrotechnics were used dangerously, including being fired at police officers. Violators of this rule may also be fined up to £1,000.
Protecting War Memorials
The new legislation will make climbing on war memorials a specific public order offence. This action is in response to recent instances where protesters scaled national monuments, disrespecting the sacrifices of those honored by these memorials. Offenders could face a three-month sentence and a £1,000 fine.
Government and Police Responses
Home Secretary James Cleverly emphasized the importance of distinguishing between peaceful protest and criminal activism. He reiterated the government’s commitment to giving police the necessary powers to prevent criminality on the streets. Chief Constable BJ Harrington of the National Police Chiefs’ Council welcomed the new offences, highlighting the need for a balance between the rights of protesters and those affected by protests.
Policing and Public Safety
The College of Policing’s Chief Constable, Andy Marsh, expressed support for the new offences, focusing on ensuring the safety of protesters and the public. The College will provide guidance and training for the effective use of these new powers by the police.
Impact of Recent Protests
The Home Secretary praised the police for their efforts in managing over 1,000 protests and vigils since October 2023. During the recent Just Stop Oil campaign, police figures showed that they arrested 657 protesters under the government’s Public Order Act 2023, demonstrating the effectiveness of existing powers in managing disruptive protests.
The Evolving Legal Framework
These measures are part of the government’s ongoing efforts to address disruptive protests. Furthermore, the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act 2022 has already made it easier to tackle public nuisance caused by protesters. Additionally, the government continues to work closely with the police to ensure they have effective powers to maintain public order.
Balancing Rights and Responsibilities
The introduction of these new laws reflects the government’s intent to balance the fundamental right to protest with the responsibility to maintain public order and safety. Additionally, as the laws come into effect, they will be instrumental in managing protests more effectively. Moreover, they ensure that public demonstrations do not infringe on the rights and safety of others.