UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday allowed the authorities to stop 'disruptive' protests in the county. He announced a plan under which he backed the police to clamp down on highly disruptive and dangerous protests in the country.
Through an amendment tabled to the Public Order Bill, the UK government will broaden the legal definition of ‘serious disruption’, giving police greater flexibility and clarity over when to intervene to stop the disruptive minority who use tactics such as blocking roads and slow marching to inflict misery on the public.
Earlier rights were given to the police to tackle ‘serious disruption’. Still, police chiefs have told the Prime Minister that there is some uncertainty over what reaches the threshold of ‘serious disruption’.
The changes introduced today by the government will give police officers absolute clarity over when they should step in. Now, police will not need to wait for disruption to take place and can shut protests down even before the chaos erupts. The police will need not treat a series of protests by the same group as standalone incidents but will be able to consider their total impact, and they will be able to consider long-running campaigns designed to cause repeat disruption over a period of days or weeks.
Sunak said the right to protest is a fundamental principle of democracy, but this was not absolute. A balance must be struck between individual rights and the hard-working majority's rights to go about their day-to-day business, he said.
"We cannot have protests conducted by a small minority disrupting the lives of the ordinary public. It’s not acceptable, and we’re going to bring it to an end. The police asked us for more clarity to crack down on these guerrilla tactics, and we have listened.”
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Mark Rowley, welcomed the move and said that increasingly police were getting drawn into complex legal arguments about the balance between the right to protest and the rights of others to go about their daily lives free from serious disruption.
"I welcome the government’s proposal to introduce a legal definition of “serious disruption” and “reasonable excuse”. In practical terms, Parliament providing such clarity will create a clearer line for the police to enforce when protests impact upon others who simply wish to go about their lawful business.”
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Public Order and Public Safety Chief Constable BJ Harrington said policing was not anti-protest, but there was a difference between protest and criminal activism, "and we are committed to responding quickly and effectively to activists who deliberately disrupt people’s lives through dangerous, reckless, and criminal acts".
"This amendment will support officers in confidently taking action and making arrests where appropriate,” Harrington said.
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