In this country, we have a long-standing tradition that people can gather together and demonstrate, and the right to protest peacefully is a fundamental part of our democracy which I fully support.
In recent years I have been concerned by the extensive disruption that some protests have caused. Certain protesters, who have glued themselves to buildings, blocked bridges and obstructed access to buildings such as the Palace of Westminster and newspaper printing works, have highlighted some gaps in current legislation, which has not been updated since 1986. Recent events have shown us that existing public order legislation is no longer fit for managing the types of protest we experience today.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will strengthen police powers in England and Wales to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect. These powers will allow the police to safely manage protests where they threaten public order and stop people from getting on with their daily lives. The Government is taking proportionate action to ensure a crucial balance is struck between the fundamental right to peaceful protest and the rights of people to get on with their daily lives unimpeded.
The measures in the PCSC Bill are not about stopping or clamping down on right to protest but ensuring the police can better manage highly disruptive protests and maintain the balance I have outlined.
It is the case that when using these powers, or existing public order powers, the police must act within the law. Importantly, the police must be able to demonstrate that their use of powers are necessary and proportionate. It is also clear that the police must act compatibly with human rights, in particular Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of association).
Much has been said regarding the proposed public nuisance offence. Clause 59 gives effect to recommendations made by the Law Commission in their July 2015 Report on ‘Simplification of the Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency’. The report stated that the common law offence of public nuisance should be replaced by a statutory offence covering any conduct which endangers the life, health, property or comfort of a section of the public or obstructs them in the exercise of their rights.
Importantly, the new statutory offence of public nuisance will cover the same conduct as the existing common law offence of public nuisance.