JCHR Press Notice 07-08 No 32

PRESS NOTICE

POLICING AND PROTEST - CALL FOR EVIDENCE

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has decided to inquire into the human rights issues arising from policing and protest.

The Committee has a longstanding interest in the protection, promotion and fulfilment of the right to peaceful protest. During the last Parliament, the Committee€™s predecessor raised significant concerns about the potential restrictions on protest around Parliament when it scrutinised the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA). These concerns have been borne out by subsequent events (e.g. the prosecution of Maya Evans for reading out the names of the war dead at the Cenotaph). However, the Committee€™s concerns extend more widely than the operation of SOCPA alone to the policing of protest more generally and to the operation of other policing powers in practice (e.g. policing of the May Day and Fairford protests). Are these events indicative of a trend towards eroding the right to protest or are they an inevitable and necessary reaction to increased security concerns?

The right to protest is a fundamental feature of a democratic society, encompassing the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, amongst others. These rights have long featured in British legal tradition, and are protected by Articles 11 and 10 respectively of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). According to the House of Lords, €œthese rights are fundamental rights, to be protected as such. Any prior restraint on their exercise must be scrutinised with particular care. The [ECHR] test of necessity does not require that a restriction be indispensable, but nor is it enough that it be useful, reasonable or desirable.€

The Committee wishes to explore the following issues which arise from policing and protest:

€ The proportionality of legislative measures to restrict protest or peaceful assembly

€ Existing powers available to the police and their use in practice

€ Reconciling competing interests of public order and protest.

Interested persons and bodies are invited to submit written evidence for consideration by the Committee, if possible, by Monday 9 June 2008. This call for evidence identifies questions in relation to which the Committee would particularly welcome evidence. The Committee would also welcome views on other matters witnesses wish to raise which are relevant to policing and protest. The Committee intends to hold oral evidence sessions in the summer.

1. Are current legislative measures which restrict protest or peaceful assembly (such as SOCPA 2005 and the Public Order Act 1986) necessary and proportionate to the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly?

€ To what extent should peaceful protest be facilitated by the State?

€ What limits, if any, should be placed on the right to protest and why?

€ Should specific limitations be placed on the ability of certain groups to protest? If so, who and why?

€ Should the right to protest be more strictly curtailed in relation to certain geographical areas? If yes, where, why and what limits would be acceptable?

€ The Government proposes to repeal sections 132-8 SOCPA dealing with protest around Parliament and invites Parliament to consider whether additional provision is needed to ensure that Parliament€™s work is not disrupted by protests in Parliament Square. What, if any, additional provision is required?

€ In what circumstances would it be permissible for the State to take pre-emptive action which curtailed protests?

2. How do existing common law and legislative police powers (such as the common law power to prevent a breach of the peace, stop and search under the Terrorism Act 2000 and the use of force) operate in practice?

€ Are existing police powers necessary? Are more or fewer required?

€ Are counter-terrorism powers appropriately used in the policing of protests?

€ Do existing police powers pay sufficient regard to human rights?

€ Are there positive examples of good practice in the policing of protests (whether in the UK or in other countries)?

3. Can the competing interests of public order and the right to protest be reconciled?

€ In what circumstances may actions during protests be justifiably criminalised?

€ Does existing criminal law and practice pay sufficient regard to human rights?

€ Are complaints about the handling of protests (including police action during protests) adequately addressed?

€ How should the balance be struck between the rights of protesters and other competing interests (such as the rights of others or the prevention of disorder or crime)? Would legislative changes be desirable to strike a better balance between competing rights, or is the current legislative framework about right?

NOTE:

Submissions should be no longer than 2,500 words and be addressed to Dr Mark Egan, Commons Clerk of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Committee Office, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA (email: [email protected]). Electronic submission in Word format is requested, but a signed hard copy should also be sent.

Evidence becomes the property of the Committee, and may be printed, placed on the Internet or circulated by the Committee at any stage. You may publicise or publish your evidence yourself, but in doing so you must indicate that it was prepared for the Committee. Evidence published other than under the authority of the Committee does not attract parliamentary privilege.