Home Secretary Priti Patel says she has asked for a “full report” from the Metropolitan Police after officers clashed with some of those in attendance at a London vigil in memory of Sarah Everard.
The Home Secretary described footage of the clashes as “upsetting”, adding that her thoughts remain with Sarah’s family and friends at this terrible time.
But tomorrow, as the dust settles on some deeply disturbing scenes at Clapham Common, a new policing bill will bring in “some of the most draconian crackdowns on the right of peaceful protest we’ve seen in our lifetime,” Politics.co.uk editor Ian Dunt has said.
“It covers a wide range of areas, from sentencing to digital information. But it has a specific section on the policing of protests. And the function of this section is simple: It aims to silence them. It is cancel culture on a statutory footing, directed against the left.”
On Monday, the policing bill is being rushed through the Commons. It contains some of the most draconian crackdowns on the right of peaceful protest we've seen in our lifetime. https://t.co/pCphJRwmXj— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) March 12, 2021
In what has been described as a “staggering assault” on the right to protest, new laws will give Patel powers to create laws to define “serious disruption” to communities and organisations, which police can then rely on to impose conditions on protests.
The HMICFRS report, ordered by Patel following Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, outlines a “need to develop” covert intelligence gathering methods and an expectation of increased use of facial recognition technology, despite a court of appeal ruling last year that its use in south Wales breached privacy rights and broke equalities law.
The report also supports expanding stop and search “to prevent serious disruption caused by protests”, amid concerns over discriminatory use of the power.
Emmanuelle Andrews, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said: “These plans are a staggering assault on our right to protest as well as an attack on other fundamental rights.
“Police already have extensive powers to restrict protests, and frequently go beyond them even though it is their duty to facilitate the exercise of this right.
“We are still in the grip of a pandemic that has changed all our lives, handed enormous powers to the government and dramatically restricted our protest rights. The proposals in the policing bill are an opportunistic bid from the government to permanently erode our rights.
“We must reject the politics of division that the government is exploiting through this bill, and protect each other and our ability to stand up to power.”
The bill also allows for police to impose conditions such as start and finish times and maximum noise levels on static protests – powers officers already have in relation to marches but will enjoy “closer alignment” to the marches.