Examination of Witness

Part of Public Order Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:44 pm on 9 June 2022.

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Adam Wagner:

A serious disruption prevention order follows the model of lots of other such orders in our laws, such as serious crime prevention orders, gang orders and drug dealing prevention orders. It is the same exact model. As drafted, a serious disruption prevention order allows a court a power if someone is convicted of any offence under the new offences.

For example, having superglue in their pocket would be an offence under the regulations, because it could be used for a lock-on. Arguably, too, a bicycle lock on their bicycle could be used for a lock-on. Once that is triggered and they get convicted of an offence, the court can then look at their background and, if they have been involved in a protest that even potentially might cause serious disruption, that is all that is needed—

“capable of causing serious disruption to two or more”— and could trigger the power for the judge to impose an order of up to two years that prevents them from doing all sorts of things. They might not be allowed into a town centre for two years, or to associate with particular people, or they could be given electronic tagging requirements. Once that is in place, they could be dragged back in if they breach a requirement and be given a prison sentence as a result. It is a protest banning order, effectively.

In fact, there are two different kinds of order: clause 13, which is the serious disruption prevention order, and then another one, whereby a police officer—even if the person has not been convicted of an offence, but just so long as they have participated in a protest and the judge thinks they might participate in another or maybe take some superglue along with them—can prevent them from going into a town centre or associating with particular people. The orders can even be applied to organisations, so it is not just individuals; it could be a charity or a campaigning organisation. It is a really huge expansion of court powers against protesters.

Let me talk a bit about the psychology of some of the people I represent, who are some of the more hardcore protesters who are at the centre of a lot of these movements. They will not be deterred by this legislation. If we look at Insulate Britain, which I guess is on the extreme end of disruption versus expressing the right to protest—it is not directed; the people they were disrupting were not the people they were protesting against, which makes the courts the least sympathetic to those actions—a lot of them said, “Well, I will go to prison for the cause.” A lot of environmental and Black Lives Matter protesters—whichever cause you think of—will say, “It’s going to be a badge of honour to go to prison.”

The prison system will start to be full of those people. It will not deter them; the people it will deter are the people who are not willing to go to prison, but who will also not be doing anything illegal at protests. They will just not want to go along, “Because I don’t want to be caught with a bicycle lock. I have a bicycle outside; I don’t want to be caught with a bicycle lock. What happens if I get arrested because I have a bicycle lock? I didn’t know one of these orders allowed police to do suspicionless search.” It will deter those people; it won’t deter the people you are worried about or the previous witnesses were worried about. It will deter lots of other people who you are not worried about, but you should be worried about.