Netpol’s Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights calls on the National Police Chiefs Council (the national body for Chief Constables) to accept greater transparency and accountability for the way protests are policed, based on existing international human rights standards.
The response from the NPCC has been wholly inadequate. The reply from the NPCC’s completely fails to address any aspect of the Charter – and ignores serious concerns raised with the recent policing of protests.
Instead, the NPCC says it is “reviewing our guidance to officers based on feedback from stakeholders and the policing inspectorate to ensure that there continues to be a balanced approach when policing protests”.
This review has, however, now been ongoing for 18 months. Meanwhile, the police’s attitude to protest has been starkly exposed by the violent policing we witnessed at the vigil at Clapham Common for Sarah Everard, who was killed by a serving police officer, and on the streets of Bristol and Manchester where protests against the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill have been violently attacked by riot police.
That’s why we are now asking you to keep up the pressure by asking your MP to write to the National Police Chief’s Council.
You can ask your MP to intervene on your behalf. Enter your postcode below to find your MP’s contact details, and use our template email (below, and in this Google Doc) to ask them to hold the police to account.
Please personalise your email, including your own concerns. A key point to make to your MP is that given the unwillingness of the NPCC to provide any kind of clear guidance on the policing of protests and the recent behaviour of the police, there is an urgent need to protect the right to protest. We cannot allow the police to write their own rules when they have time and again shown themselves to be, at best, disinterested in protecting our rights. Netpol’s Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights is based on international standards already supported by the British government and created experts from the OSCE and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Senior officers should not, therefore, see the Charter’s points as contentious or find them hard to commit to.
If you contact your MP, please let us know (by email to email@example.com) and also if you receive a reply.
Template email text:
Hundreds of thousands of people around the country have expressed their grave concern about the future implications of the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill on the right to freedom of assembly. My concerns about the Bill are that it will give the police substantially wider powers to impose restrictions on protests seen as “disruptive”, noisy or likely to “impact” (in ways not yet defined) on businesses. It also makes it far easier to make arrests for breaches of new restrictions. However, the aggressive and confrontational response of the police towards recent protests, from the vigil at Clapham Common to demonstrations against the Bill, has convinced me that the problem isn’t simply this proposed new legislation and what happens in the future. My concern is as much about the lack of protection for human rights and the lack of accountability about the way protests are policed now. I am writing as a constituent and hoping that you will assist me in raising my concerns about the right to protest with the National Police Chiefs Council. I am especially concerned that senior officers who are legally responsible for ensuring citizens’ rights to freedom of assembly have no clear guidelines for local police forces on how these rights are protected, yet have lobbied hard for even tougher powers. That is why I am supporting the new Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights, put together by Netpol and supported by numerous national and local campaigners. The Charter simply restates existing international human rights obligations that Britain has signed up to, but brings them together into a single document. A detailed case for why this approach is important is available at https://netpol.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Charter-for-Freedom-of-Assembly-Rights.pdf I believe this is a genuinely positive attempt to provide greater transparency and will ensure anyone wanting to exercise their right to protest has more clarity about what kind of policing they can expect. If adopted, it may result in far less uncertainty for everyone on a range of issues, from the use of surveillance and police powers to the treatment of people with disabilities, that can have a ‘chilling effect’ on whether individuals feel they can participate in public assemblies at all. For these reasons, I recently wrote to the National Police Chiefs Council asking it, as the leadership body for policing in Britain, to adopt the Charter or offer an explanation why it was unable to support this clear guidance. Unfortunately, its response was an unhelpful, generic statement that completely fails to address the Charter or the issues I have raised. (see below). I would appreciate your assistance, as my MP, in raising this matter on my behalf with the National Police Chiefs Council, as it may be more willing to reply thoughtfully and comprehensively to you than it has to me. I am convinced that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a dangerous and unnecessary piece of legislation that endangers the rights and safety of every single one of us. However, whether the Bill passes or not, I am equally convinced of the negative consequences for the right to freedom of assembly if British policing’s attitudes towards protesters, and the way their rights are protected, does not change too.
Standardised response by NPCC to all enquiries about the Charter
Thank you for your email regarding recent protests, vigils, and the understandable outpouring of grief and anger from women because of their experiences of violence, abuse or harassment. Policing Protests is challenging and complex – and even more so during these unprecedented times. Public safety is, and always will be police’s top priority, and this hasn’t changed throughout our approach to the pandemic. Police forces have always sought to find the right balance between the rights of protestors and those of local residents and businesses, while also considering the very real risks from the spread of the virus. As we continue to navigate our way through the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 and the different challenges it presents, policing will constantly be reviewing, planning and preparing for every eventuality. In collaboration with the College of Policing we are reviewing our guidance to officers based on feedback from stakeholders and the policing inspectorate to ensure that there continues to be a balanced approach when policing protests.