Thank you for contacting me about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the right to protest.
As a national lockdown is currently in place, we must all stay at home and only leave for a small number of essential reasons as outlined in law.
Beyond the current Coronavirus protect restrictions, there have been concerns about the extensive disruption that some protests have caused over recent years. In particular, stopping people getting on with their daily lives, hampering the free press and blocking access to Parliament.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will strengthen police powers 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 prevent people from getting on with their daily lives. The Bill also contains vital new measures to protect women and girls, including tougher sentences for sex offenders.
The Government is taking action to ensure the crucial balance between the fundamental right to peaceful protest and the rights of people to get on with their daily lives is maintained.
Sarah Everard vigil
I appreciate that many have found the images from the vigil at Clapham Common to be upsetting. The Home Secretary and Prime Minister have spoken to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police about this particular incident. A comprehensive review has been announced and it is only right that the review is undertaken in order to ensure the right lessons are learnt.
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.
You can find the Law Commission report on this issue here:
Unauthorised traveller sites
After two consultations on this issue, I welcome the fact that new laws will be introduced to increase the powers available to the police in England and Wales. The Bill will introduce a new criminal offence where a person resides or intends to reside on any public or private land without permission and has caused, or is likely to cause, significant harm, obstruction, harassment or distress.
In addition, the Bill amends the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to broaden the list of harms that can be considered by the police when directing people away from land; and increase the period in which persons directed away from land must not return from 3 months to 12. Amendments to the 1994 will also allow police to direct trespassers away from land that forms part of a highway.
The Government has made it clear that only a minority of travellers are causing problems, such as through abusive behaviour and extensive litter and waste at illegal sites. These measures are a proportionate and necessary increase in powers for the police.
Scrutiny of new powers
This is a long-awaited Bill with many measures previous announced or discussed before the Bill itself was published. Most notably those within the Sentencing White Paper, published in September last year.
In addition, the Second Reading debate for the Bill was spread across 2 days. The Bill will now move to Committee Stage, where each clause, part, possible amendments, proposals for change, to the Bill may be debated. This Bill will receive a high level of scrutiny by those elected to do just that.