Over 100,000 people have now signed our petition opposing the government’s new Policing Bill and calling on the National Police Chiefs Council to adopt our Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights, setting out how police should protect, not restrict, the right to protest.

It is now evident that the government wants to use its 80-seat parliamentary majority to rush through the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. We have to stand against this.

Netpol’s Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights calls for protection – not restrictions – on the right to protest.

The bill, announced last week, includes plans to “strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to Parliament”. The debate on the second reading of the bill starts today.

Tens of thousands are opposing these changes to the law, but we should not accept the argument that “this law is unnecessary, as the police already have sufficient powers.” The police already have far too many powers.

Decades of criminal justice legislation had created dozens of new offences and broad new powers that inevitably have since been reinterpreted and abused. The existing Public Order Act is already used to restrict protests and criminalise protesters.

Government and police will always attack our rights, demanding new powers and new controls. We have to start demanding a change.

This is why we are launching a new Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights. We are demanding police respect existing international human rights standards – or explain why they refuse to do so.

In an online survey conducted in October 2020, we asked 25 organisations ranging from large national groups to small, local grassroots campaigns about their attitudes towards the right to freedom of assembly. The results show a clear demand for increased protections for the right to protest and widespread concerns at the lack of safeguards against police surveillance.

The results of the survey helped us to finalise the wording of a new Charter. Its eleven core statements are:

ONE:Public assemblies need not only facilitation, but also protection
TWO:Public assemblies need protection based on equality and non-discrimination
THREE:Potential disruption is not an automatic excuse for denying protection for assemblies
FOUR:The use of civil disobedience and direct action tactics are not an automatic excuse for denying protection for assemblies
FIVE:The use of police powers to collectively restrict the right to freedom of assembly is justifiable only in exceptional circumstances
SIX:Although public assemblies are collective activities, protesters are individually rather than collectively responsible for their actions
SEVEN:Choosing to take part in a public assembly is not an invitation to surveillance and denial of privacy
EIGHT:Organisers of public assemblies, not the police, must decide their level of communication and dialogue
NINE:Independent monitoring of the policing of protests is essential for defending the right to organise and participate in public assemblies
TEN:Imposing financial burdens on organisers restricts the right to freedom of assembly
ELEVEN:The police have a particular duty to protect the rights of vulnerable or disabled people wishing to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly

In the absence of any other meaningful guidance available to local forces, we are calling on the National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing to adopt these eleven statements by endorsing the Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights.

You can find a full briefing on the case for the Charter here.