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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Government introduces legislation to combat disruptive slow walking protest tactics

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Government introduces legislation to combat disruptive slow walking protest tactics

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Police will be given the power to intervene when slow marching used to block roads

The Home Office announced on 28 April that new legislation has been introduced that will give the police new powers to intervene when slow walking tactics are used by protestors to block roads and cause disruption.

The legislation, which will support the Public Order Bill, responds to a request for clarity from the police on when existing powers can be used to break up slow marching protests, which includes defining what is meant by ‘serious disruption to the life of the community.’ The Public Order Bill, which was first announced in the Queen’s speech on 10 May 2022, aims to provide the police with greater powers to crackdown on protest tactics, such as those being used by climate protestors.

The Public Order Bill, which has been described as draconian and a further restriction to people’s fundamental rights to peaceful protest by Amnesty International, will create a new criminal offence for interfering with key national infrastructure, such as roads, airports and railways, with perpetrators facing 12 months behind bars; make it illegal to ‘lock-on’ to others, objects, or buildings, carrying a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine; and allow police to carry out stop and search when they believe protestors are setting out to inflict serious disruption.

Commenting on the new legislation, Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, said: “Selfish, disruptive protesters are wreaking havoc in people’s everyday lives across the country and this must be brought to a stop. This is why we are bringing forward this new law to clearly define serious disruption as requested by police chiefs. Not only will the Public Order Bill, passed yesterday by Parliament, introduce new criminal offences for causing serious disruption, this new legislation permits the police to clear the roads of slow marching protesters who are hell-bent on causing chaos across the UK.”

Meanwhile, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk issued a statement on 27 April, following the Public Order Bill being passed by Parliament, urging the UK government to reverse the ‘deeply troubling legislation,’ which the commissioner believes is incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations regarding people’s rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

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