Notice of Street Processions

Part of Nottinghamshire County Council Bill [Lords] (By Order) – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 13th February 1983.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman , Southwark Peckham 7:45 pm, 13th February 1983

My hon. Friend is right. I assume that the code of practice that I have for the west midlands is up to date. We do not know how many versions of the code of practice there will be, how often it will be amended, or whether the chief constable will be prepared to amend it following suggestions, say, from the police or local authority. That is not written into the Bill.

As the code of practice for the west midlands is the nearest we have to a code of practice for Nottinghamshire county council, I shall comment on its framework. It begins by stating that it is drawn up under section 38 of the West Midlands County Council Act. Anyone picking it up would think that it was an authoritative legal document and that anyone breaching it would be guilty of a criminal offence. It then mixes up the criminal law in the west midlands with what the chief constable would like to see by way of good practice. Someone who knew the law, had read the section and knew public order law could distinguish between the chief constable's suggestions and the obligations. However, the code of practice is no doubt given to those who notify the police that they intend to march in the west midlands. Such people have no way of being able to distinguish between what they have to do and what is merely optional. Although an expert in public order law could distinguish between them, an ordinary solicitor would be unable to say what was binding under the law and what were simply the chief constable's suggestions.

The code states that it is drawn up under the Act and then sets out the legal requirements. Later, there is a huge list of all the offences which should not be committed when demonstrating. The person reading it would immediately think that he might teeter over the brink when demonstrating and commit one of four criminal offences involving offensive weapons, using abusive behaviour, inciting racial hatred and so on. The offences are set out in great detail and the person reading it would think immediately that he had to be careful, because otherwise he might commit one of them. He would begin to think that what he was doing was almost unlawful in itself. The code then sets out the information needed from organisers.