Netpol is encouraging campaigners who for years have fought to stop fracking in their communities to share their experiences of the oppressive and violent policing at protests with Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.
The committee is currently undertaking scrutiny of the government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, which has sparked a new movement in opposition to the expansion of police powers.
The bill proposes to give the police extra powers to limit protests. If the police decide that the noise from a protest risks creating “serious disruption”, or causing “unease, distress and alarm” to people or businesses in the area, they can impose restrictions.
You can find a summary of the parts of the PCSC Bill related to protests here.
Netpol has expressed our concerns that any campaign group that is likely to make its voice heard noisily could find itself accused of causing “serious disruption” to a business, which has an incentive to put pressure on the police to shut down pickets or protests that affect its profits.
We believe it is likely to cause far more arrests, far more often, as well as escalate aggressive and confrontational police tactics.
The bill also proposes a new offence of residing on land without consent with least one vehicle (or the intention to have one) in a way that this is “likely to cause… significant damage or disruption”.
This includes land that forms part of a highway, such as a grass verge, and gives the police the power to make arrests and seize property. Targeting mainly Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, this would also have a potentially serious impact on roadside protest camps, which have been so important in monitoring activities at fracking sites.
Parliamentarians have requested submissions that address whether the proposed changes to the law are necessary to protect those adversely affected by protests and whether the bill adequately protects the right to peaceful assembly (Article 11 ECHR) and the right to free expression (Article 10 ECHR).
Anti-fracking campaigners are in a unique position to comment as they have been battling with aggressive policing of corporate interests for years. If you are able to make a submission, you might want to raise:
- Whether your experiences of campaigning have led you to view the police as consciously siding with powerful corporate interests and failing to provide the ‘balance’ they claim to seek.
- Whether your campaigning activities have led you to believe the police are likely to use new powers proportionately, or whether they are likely to eagerly embrace them as a way to arrest protesters more quickly.
- Whether the use of sweeping civil injunctions by the fracking industry to shut down protests is an indicator that they care little about human rights and would latch onto any new laws to put pressure on the police to protect their businesses from adverse affects from opponents.
- Whether expanded police powers are likely to lead to more aggressive policing.
- Whether a crackdown on roadside protest camps would have made it far more difficult for local campaigners to monitor breaches of planning rules by fracking companies.
- Whether you think the police would have jumped at the chance to shut down on roadside anti-fracking protest camps if these powers had been available over the last decade.
Submissions should take up no more than 1500 words and the deadline is Friday 14 May. If you decide to make a submission, remember:
- You don’t have to use all 1500 words – write whatever you are comfortable with.
- There is no need for produce something that sounds like a legal document – the committee will have enough of those already!
- Talk instead about your own experiences, as this is the kind of information that the Joint Committee on Human Rights may not otherwise hear.
- Do make sure that paragraphs are numbered and that your submission is a Word, ODT or RTF document (not a PDF). You can find an example in Netpol’s own submission here.
You can submit your views via the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ online portal.