I have opposed intrusion into our civil liberties by Coronavirus regulations whereby we are told whom we may meet, where we may meet them, and now even what we must wear. So, I was tempted to join the protest march last weekend in London against the Coronavirus regulations and for which I had received a couple of email invitations.
I certainly wasn’t put off by the prospect fine because it struck me as entirely possible to attend such events and yet abide by the required social distance set out in guidelines. Furthermore, so many other protest marches have been allowed to proceed largely unmolested by the authorities including the Black Lives Matter protests, and just in the last week Extinction Rebellion.
As for the liability of an on-the-spot fine of a whopping £1000 for the organisers, I certainly wasn’t one of them, and anyway, even if one were, the organisers of the other protest marches were not pursued.
In the event I didn’t go simply because I have so many other demands on my time on a Saturday.
Piers Corbyn, Jeremy’s elder brother, has always struck me as a rather odd fellow, with some pretty wacky views. Nevertheless, I was pretty horrified that he was fingered for the £1000 on-the-spot fine for the march that I had at least contemplated attending. This is very unfair given that the other more fashionable marches did not receive this heavy-handed approach. I am glad that there is a campaign to fight his corner and challenge the fine, to which I’ve made a very modest contribution.
The regulations under which our right to lawful protest has been removed -undebated and without a vote in Parliament- gives the power to any police officer, including police support officers, to levy the on-the spot-fine on you for being involved in a gathering of more that 30 people. Well, in that case I’m very glad I didn’t go. The original official description of the regulations was that the £1000 was just for the organisers, actually the wording of the regulations however, state that it’s anyone involved.
When I received the emails advertising the March, I did contemplate forwarding them to those constituents who have been most vociferous in their criticism of Coronavirus regulations. I didn’t, but had I done so, would I have ‘involved’ myself, and might I be liable to be fined?
I am informed that this is indeed the case. In fact, anyone present, carrying banners, shouting slogans, is ‘involved’ and could be liable.
Another chilling aspect of all this is how police photographers take long lens photographs of entirely peaceful participants: they can come for you later.
As the barrister Matthew Scott has put it
“One should shudder at a law that gives such vast powers to the most junior officials; that was introduced by an emergency procedure, and after the publication of grossly misleading official guidance as to its intended effect”
We should never be careless with our liberty and freedom of expression