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Reflecting on civil society’s tenacious campaign against the Policing Bill

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has now received Royal Assent and became an Act of Parliament at the end of April.  It marked the end of a 14-month campaign coordinated by the Police Bill Alliance, involving over 350 civil society organisations campaigning against two key parts of the Bill, namely Part 3 restricting people’s protest rights, and Part 4 on criminalising nomadic lifestyles. In this blog, Kathleen Christie assesses the final stages of the Bill, the campaign’s impact, and how charities can engage in some key implications for civil society moving forward.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Final parliamentary stages

The Police Bill Alliance (PBA) gained significant political traction in the House of Lords. In an earlier blog, former ACEVO policy officer Maisie Hulbert described how the campaign stopped dead some of the Government’s most authoritarian plans introduced at the last minute. In January, peers voted to remove some of the worst proposed restrictions on protest from the Bill for good, including Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (protest banning orders), the offences of locking on and being equipped to lock on and suspicionless stop and search related to protest.

Some other threats to protest were also initially defeated in the Lords but MPs voted to put them back in. This included measures to give the police the power to impose noise-based restrictions to protest. In all, peers pushed back against the government’s plan to give police powers to shut down noisy protests three times. Sadly the earlier key vote on Part 4 was passed by a single vote in the Lords, with no further influencing opportunity.

Campaign impact

From the Bill’s introduction in March 2021, the PBA mounted a tenacious and creative campaign which benefited hugely from the diversity of organisations and individuals who supported it. Our deliberately decentralised structure encouraged communities of interest to develop their own tactics and approaches under the umbrella of the campaign We have a lot to be proud of.

Our petition was signed by over 800,000 people. More than 700 academics and multiple faith leaders called for measures in the Bill to be dropped alongside authors and publishers; former police officers and three UN Special Rapporteurs.  Business leaders spoke out too, including former Unilever Paul Polman who expressed his ‘profound concern’ and former Dragons Den judge Deborah Meaden who said the Bill was ‘bad for business’.  

Within Parliament, we garnered support from across the isles in both Houses. Writing in Conservative Home, former Attorney General for England and Wales, Dominic Grieve said ‘Tempting as it may be for Parliamentarians to want to stop disruptive demonstrations, these changes are, as drafted, a potential threat to the right to peaceful protest which is an essential element of our freedom and democracy.’  In the Independent newspaper, respected peer Lord Alf Dubs decried the attacks on Gypsy & Traveller communities implicit in Part 4, saying ’this is not who we are as a nation’.

What next?

Here are some joint activities you can get involved in that relate to the impact of the Policing Bill and emerging threats to civil society.

Policing Bill impact

We are now faced with what civil liberties organisation Liberty describe as ‘a huge and dense piece of legislation with seriously worrying consequences’. These include a severe clampdown on protest and the criminalisation of Gypsy and Traveller communities’ way of life. 

There are several things you can do ahead:

  • Keep an eye on how the new powers are being used. There are a number of grassroots groups that offer support for protest groups and legal monitoring including Netpol, Black Protest Legal Support, Green and Black Cross. In addition, Sisters Uncut are training, supporting and forming a series of ‘copwatch groups’.
  • Continue to demonstrate solidarity with nomadic communities through promoting positive local stories on heritage dates like Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month in June.  Tag @GypsyTravellers so they can help amplify social media posts.

Emerging threats to civil society

At such a moment, it is vital that civil society continues to stand together in defence of our shared vision for a democratic society.

Joint activities you can engage in:

  • Join the campaign to protect the Human Rights Act. If you are not already looped into this please email samg@libertyhumanrights.org.uk
  • Engage the Civil Society Voice network convened by Bond and Quakers in Britain.  This is an informal group of cross-sectoral organisations that work together to improve the environment for civil society campaigning in the UK and promote a positive vision of civic space. Please email rforest@bond.org.uk
Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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