Examination of Witnesses

Public Order Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:23 pm on 9th June 2022.

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Olly Sprague, Stephanie Needleman and Martha Spurrier gave evidence.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale 4:10 pm, 9th June 2022

We will now hear from Olly Sprague, military security and police programme director, Amnesty International; Stephanie Needleman, legal director, Justice, via Zoom; and Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty. I should say to Ms Needleman, please alert us if any technical issues arise during the course of your evidence. We have until 4.55 pm for this session. I invite the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record.

Stephanie Needleman:

I am Stephanie Needleman, the legal director of Justice. Justice is an all-party law reform and human rights organisation working to strengthen the UK justice system.

Martha Spurrier:

I am Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, the human rights and civil liberties campaigning organisation.

Olly Sprague:

I am Olly Sprague, programme head at Amnesty International UK for our work on military policing and security matters. This is my first physical Committee for two and a half years—it is good to be physically in the room.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

It is good to have you. We will begin with a question from Anne McLaughlin.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q Good afternoon and thank you for coming. This rehash of the protest parts of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that did not get through Parliament seems to me to be more about reacting to issues that this Government disagree with and to protesters they do not like, such as environmental protesters and Black Lives Matter protesters. Regardless of whether that is the case, this Bill affects everyone, including the one group of people whom surely no one can get upset about, and that is the WASPI campaigners—I have just remembered, I am not supposed to talk about that. We have heard about disruption to people’s lives from protests, albeit we are talking about protests that are very short-lived and last only a few hours, as Sir Peter Fahy just said. Ideally, we would all live in complete harmony with no disruption to anyone’s life, but we do not. In your view, what will cause the most severe damage, the longest term damage and the damage to the most people—racism, environmental damage, people losing their pensions, or people staging protests?

Martha Spurrier:

There can be little doubt that a Government should spend time looking at the root causes of a protest, whether that is the climate crisis rather than climate protesters, or racism rather than Black Lives Matter protesters. Of course, it is not news to say that protest is a foundational right, and that it is an article of faith in any democratic country that if there is something you disagree with, you can take to the streets to make your voice heard. It is of great concern to Liberty and those of us who work in this area—I am a lawyer, and I have been working in this area for the best part of 15 years—to see provisions in a Bill that not only have been rejected by Parliament once, but significantly expand police powers, often doing so in a very over-broad and imprecise way, such that it is difficult to see how they will be effectively implemented.

We would expect a disproportionate impact on marginalised communities from the exercise of those powers. We would also expect that they will fundamentally undermine the right to protest, and will not do what they are purported to do—deal with a hard core of some supposedly extremely disruptive protesters—but will in fact have a dragnet effect of chilling people’s right to protest and free expression, and deter ordinary people from exercising their fundamental rights. There is a whole range of examples in the Bill that we could talk about where it is very difficult to see why those measures are proportionate and justified ways of dealing with the perceived problem, let alone whether there is a problem as articulated.

Olly Sprague:

I echo what Martha said. For an organisation such as Amnesty, it is not a case of either/or: we do not want to balance the harm that might be caused by climate change versus the positive duty that all states have to uphold the right to freedom of assembly and association and the right to protest. You have to manage all things.

One of the things that we bring here is that we are an international human rights monitoring organisation: we look at human rights internationally, and we look at where the UK is on the standards, obligations and legal frameworks that exist. It is worrying to say that for most of the provisions in the Bill, we see a clear gap between what the international standards require of the UK and what the UK proposes here, and it is the wrong gap. The UK is on the wrong side of where it should be. I am sure we will have the opportunity to go into why we think that and the areas where we think that is the case, but that is a very worrying direction of travel, especially when in terms of its foreign, defence and security policy aspirations, the UK sees itself very much as a champion of civil society space. It sees and acknowledges the fact that the world is becoming increasingly authoritarian, and wants to do things to stop that.

As a quick example, in April this year, Lord Ahmad—a Government Minister from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—was giving his closing remarks to the 49th session of the Human Rights Council. In that, he made specific reference to a very important resolution about the need to promote and respect the rights of human rights defenders around the world. It was a resolution that was welcomed and strongly supported by the UK Government; it was a very important resolution. That resolution essentially requires that all states refrain from measures that excessively criminalise human rights defenders and their rights to freedom of expression, so you have a bit of a disconnect here between the statements that the UK puts out internationally and the role we see ourselves playing in the world community, and the kinds of measures we are putting in place on our own domestic legislative front. They are out of step with each other, and it is not joined up.

Stephanie Needleman:

I completely agree with what Martha and Olly have said. Picking up on something that Olly said about the disconnect between what the UK is doing internationally and what we are doing domestically, there is also an internal disconnect in what we are doing domestically in the UK. The right to protest is an element of the right to freedom of expression and assembly. On the one hand, that is being championed under the Bill of Rights consultation and the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, but on the other hand, it is being severely restricted in this Bill, so there is an internal inconsistency there as well.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Q May I ask about the serious disruption prevention orders in clause 12? As I understand it, there could be an application to the court by the authorities to prevent somebody from taking part in protests, even if they had not been convicted of something but are deemed to have been involved in disruption. I did have further details, but I did not realise I would be called so quickly; I have given the general gist of my point. Do you have a clear idea of how much would have to be proved? If you are applying for an order on the basis that someone has been involved in something but they have never been convicted of it—let us assume they have not been taken to court and acquitted of it—I guess the idea is that they would be known to the police as having been involved in previous protests. How would you see that panning out? Could they find themselves being subjected to this process just because they have been photographed at previous protests at which other people committed disruptive acts? To what extent is it a collective thing? Or would it have to be proved that an individual had done something?

“Disruption” is such a vague term. What would a person have to have done for the police to be able to go down this route? I should probably ask the Minister, because I think the answer at the moment is that we do not really know, but how do you see this panning out?

Stephanie Needleman:

I cannot see if Martha and Ollie are indicating that they will answer, but I can kick off, if that is helpful.

I think you have hit the nail on the head in raising the vagueness of when these serious disruption prevention orders can be imposed. They can be imposed not necessarily on conviction, as you said. The orders can cover an incredibly broad range of circumstances. Under clause 13(2)(a)(v), all you need to prove is that on two separate occasions somebody

“caused or contributed to the carrying out by any other person”— they do not even have to have done the act even themselves; it could be done by someone else—

“activities related to a protest that resulted in, or were likely to result in, serious disruption”.

You do not need to have carried out the

“activities related to a protest”; you just have to have “caused or contributed” to them. Those are incredibly vague and broad terms; they could cover almost anything done to assist someone doing anything related to a protest. For example, it could be driving somebody to a protest, or to shops selling paint or glue, if the person the glue is sold to subsequently glues themselves to something.

Linked to that, there does not seem to be any requirement for the person to have had knowledge that the protest activities were going to cause serious disruption when they “caused or contributed” to the carrying out of those activities. That could capture a vast range of behaviour.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Q How do you see the provisions working? As I understand it, an application has to be made to a court for the order. Would the person who was going to be subject to this order be entitled to legal representation? Would getting the order involve proving the person’s original involvement? Would they be able to challenge the fact that they were deemed to have been involved in supporting disruption on two previous occasions? Or would the police apply for the order and have it granted in absentia?

Stephanie Needleman:

It has to be proved, but it only has to be found, on the balance of probabilities—the civil standard of proof—that one of the conditions has been met. As I said, the conditions are so broad and vague that it should not be that problematic for the police to approve. So yes, involvement would have to be proved, but given the vagueness and the broadness of the conditions, it is likely that it can be easily proved.

Martha Spurrier:

It is right that, for example, legal aid would not be available to someone defending themselves against having one of those orders imposed on them, and of course they can be renewed; there is a suggestion in the Bill that they could be renewed indefinitely. Once the order was in place, you would not get legal aid for a lawyer’s assistance in dislodging it.

It is worth stepping back a little and looking at the serious disruption prevention orders. These have been proposed by the Met police before, under the name of protest banning orders. The Home Office was against bringing them in, on the grounds that they were neither compatible with human rights nor an effective deterrent that would solve the problem that they purported to. That relates to a slippage in principle and language that we see across the Bill. It is important to pay attention to it, because this is law; cases will be decided on these words. Article 10 of the European convention on human rights is of course not an absolute right. It can be interfered with. There is a balance to be struck between the interests of a protester and the interests of the wider community, for example.

There are many grounds on which you can interfere with the right to protest; one of them is crime and disorder, and another is the rights of other people. You already have a human rights framework for limiting protest in certain constrained situations, but what we see in this Bill is not the language of crime, disorder, or abuse of others’ rights, but the language of disruption, inconvenience and nuisance. That is a significant, conceptual, legal change in the language. As Stephanie says, it takes you into the territory of criminalising what we have hitherto understood to be non-criminal conduct—of criminalising protest tactics that have a long history and previously would not have been considered criminal acts. People who may have participated in a couple of protests over five years may suddenly find themselves within the purview of the criminal law, although hitherto both criminal and human rights law would simply never have brought them into that space. When thinking about all these definitions and new offences, it is important to recognise that significant paradigm shift in the concept of how you go about policing protest.

Add to that the fact that these new concepts, including the idea of serious disruption, will be defined in secondary legislation. This significant interference with the fundamental right of protest may result in terms being defined by a politician who gives the definition very little parliamentary scrutiny. The measures would then be implemented by a police service that interprets them as it sees fit; we do not need to go into the times when they get it right and the times when they get it wrong. There are lots of layers to this before you even get to the detail of what happens if someone is subject to one of these orders, how they would shift it, and whether being subject to an order would mean that they could no longer protest.

Olly Sprague:

My colleagues have covered everything that I wanted to say on the domestic aspect. It is worth coming back to the question: where do the international standards sit? The United Nations Human Rights Committee’s general comment from 2020 is most useful here. It allows the criminalisation of individuals taking part in a demonstration only in very specific circumstances, and it sets the threshold at incitement to violence. It sets the time limit as “as short as possible”; it talks in terms of a few hours. The international standard allows individuals to be prevented from accessing a process, but the bar is very high. The Bill sets an extraordinarily low bar. There are two levels by which these orders can be put in place. One is based on a person having two previous convictions on the civil standard burden of proof; the other is not based on conviction at all, which is even worse. The UK is so far out of step with where it should be under international standards; it is quite alarming.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I could understand it to a point if somebody’s presence at a future protest could lead to a dangerous situation, which is what you say the international comparison would be; but under the Bill, basically your right to protest could be removed for five years because you had not behaved impeccably on previous protests.

Olly Sprague:

The Bill would also potentially hold you responsible for the conduct of other people at a protest that you were organising. One of the great unfortunate misconceptions of protest, especially around violence and disruptive protest, is that a protest somehow gets characterised as being inherently violent because actions of violence occurred within it. It is perfectly legitimate for law enforcement officers to deal with and prevent those violent actions and make arrests. However, you cannot characterise a whole protest as violent just because some aspect of it was violent.

With the way the serious disruption prevention orders are drafted, you could, in theory, be held responsible for an altogether peaceful protest where a violent action that was completely beyond your control took place. You cannot really be held responsible for something that you were not responsible for, if that makes sense.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Q I think the Amnesty note says that in other countries, the issue is about not being allowed to organise a protest, but this measure, as I understand it, would mean that you were not allowed to participate. It could be quite specific: you would not be allowed in a particular place at a particular time, or in a particular area when something was going on. Is that right?

Olly Sprague:

We have to be careful when making international comparisons. We do not really not compare and rank countries in some kind of league table. We look at each country individually and see where it marks up. It is interesting, though, that there are not that many examples around the world of measures akin to a protest banning order.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Q You say that in Belarus anyone who has been fined is not allowed to organise a protest for another year. This measure goes way beyond that.

Olly Sprague:

We have not looked at 600 different laws for the purpose of this sitting. However, where we have looked, we found corresponding powers of a similar nature in places such as Turkey, the Philippines, Belarus, Russia and Egypt, I think. In all the cases where they have a measure that is similar to a protest banning order, it has been on the organisation of protests, not the participation.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Q You would like to think that our civil liberties protections were a bit better than those in Belarus, but the ban there is only for a year, rather than five.

Olly Sprague:

Yes.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

Q Did you wish to say something, Ms Needleman, or was I misinterpreting you?

Stephanie Needleman:

Yes, please. I want to add that when we talk about what these protest banning orders do, we should note that they do not necessarily just ban people from attending or organising protests. They have significantly wider, far-reaching applications into everyday aspects of people’s lives. As long as they are imposed for one of the purposes listed, the conditions that can be imposed when someone has been given one of these orders can be anything. Look at the conditions listed in the Bill: they can prevent people using the internet, associating with particular persons or participating in particular activities. It is not necessarily limited to protest. We are talking about activities that are far, far broader than just being prevented from attending protests.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Q For precision, we should be clear that the measure that was previously considered, which you referred to, Ms Spurrier, was a protest banning order that was an absolute ban, which you rightly did not support. However, this measure is a conditional order, which may place restrictions or conditions on somebody’s ability to operate in a protest environment. For example, a Just Stop Oil person may be banned from coming within half a mile of an oil terminal, but could still attend a protest in central London outside this building about the same issue. That is the difference between the two, is it not?

Martha Spurrier:

Well, there is a potential difference in how it would be applied, but the serious disruption prevention orders have the capacity to be absolute bans in the same way as the protest banning orders.

Martha Spurrier:

Yes, under judicial supervision—but, as we have said, to a low standard of proof, based on no criminal conduct.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Q Would the same effect currently be achievable through an injunction against an individual through a civil route?

Martha Spurrier:

I don’t think so, because I do not think you could attach the same invasive conditions. I do not think you could have electronic monitoring, for example, if you had an injunction. That is my understanding.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Q But you could, through a civil injunction, stop somebody attending a particular place at a particular time, or associating with particular people or, for example, coming near an oil terminal. There are wide—basically unlimited—powers to impose conditions through an injunction.

Martha Spurrier:

I would not describe them as unlimited powers, but judges absolutely can impose injunctions. It goes to the broader point of whether these additional powers are needed, and I know that there have been people giving evidence that—

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Q I do not mean to rush, but we are short of time. From a human rights point of view, if you were a protester subject to some kind of control or sanction for your activity, would you rather go through a civil procedure or a criminal procedure, based on the protections that would be available to you as an individual —access to a jury trial, supervision by a judge, the level of proof and all those kind of things?

Martha Spurrier:

I do not understand the question. A civil injunction and an SDPO are both civil procedures with criminal sanctions attached.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Q Sorry, I was not necessarily referring to SDPOs. I meant more widely. At the moment, we have a situation where we see people go to prison in this country for so-called protest activity through a civil route, because the criminal route is not deemed enough of a deterrent or is too slow. The contrast between the two is presumably that in the criminal system, there are quite strong protections, including the right to a jury trial and others, that do not apply in a civil situation. If the end result is that you are going to end up guilty of a particular offence, surely you would do it through the criminal route, rather than the civil route.

Martha Spurrier:

If you are going to face imprisonment, you will always have access to counsel—to legal aid. You may face those sanctions either directly from a breach of the criminal law or, if you are under a civil order that has criminal sanctions attached to it, from breaching that civil order. I cannot see an argument that any person is better off having an SDPO, as opposed to an injunction or any other offence. The fact of the matter is that an SDPO is a novel legal provision that, for all the reasons we have gone over, captures non-criminal conduct as well as criminal.

Martha Spurrier:

Well, the impact of an SDPO is much, much wider, because you could end up having a civil order attached to you that has invasive conditions, such as electronic monitoring, that could be renewed indefinitely, and if you breach them you could face almost a year in prison and an unlimited fine. I do not think they are comparable at all. We do not have anything like that currently, whereby, for non-criminal acts, you could face that kind of civil or criminal sanction.

Martha Spurrier:

You can. What I am saying is that you would not currently have an injunction based on non-criminal conduct—the kind of non-criminal conduct we are talking about with this Bill—that then has attached to it invasive conditions such as electronic monitoring. There is no comparison with what this Bill is doing.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Q Okay, thanks very much. Mr Sprague, I want to ask you about other jurisdictions—most notably, Scotland. My perception is that Scotland has more draconian sentencing powers in these circumstances. For example, we referred earlier to the offence of malicious mischief, which carries an unlimited prison sentence when presented in front of a judge. Just last month, the organiser of a protest in Glasgow was arrested on the grounds that the protest had not been authorised by the city council. Are you engaged with the Scottish Government over concerns about that situation, or do you think it is a very settled legal situation that has been there for some time, so that is an acceptable bar?

Olly Sprague:

I do not want to give a non-answer here. Obviously, policing is a devolved matter, so our offices in Scotland have an equivalent of me. They are involved in a number of policing and scrutiny panels, and they are actively involved in the human rights framework around public order policing. They were involved in a scrutiny panel for the COP protests, for example. These are discussions that our colleagues have with the Scottish Government all the time. I am not fully abreast of the details of those, but I can tell you that we have them. Where we are critical, we make that known.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Q The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton has been campaigning for some time on buffer zones around abortion clinics, which would obviously impact individuals’ rights to protest. As organisations, do you support the principle of buffer zones in such circumstances?

Martha Spurrier:

Liberty’s position on buffer zones is to support as limited a buffer zone as is possible to protect access to reproductive rights for the people who need to use the services of the clinic, while also protecting the right to protest. One of the amendments proposes a 150-metre buffer zone, and we think that that limit is acceptable, although it should be dependent on circumstances—if a narrower one is possible, that should be used. There are some aspects of the amendment that we agree with, and some that we think are too broad and could infringe the right to protest. I have to say that of all our concerns about this Bill, buffer zones around abortion clinics are not high on the list. There are much more egregious interferences with the right to protest in this Bill than those proposed in that amendment.

Stephanie Needleman:

Sorry; I could not hear very well. Were you asking me whether I wanted to comment?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

Order. I am going to come to you, Dr Huq, but I will decide who speaks and when. The Minister is currently speaking, and we are asking Ms Needleman, who is joining us by Zoom, whether she wishes to give a response.

Stephanie Needleman:

I do not think I have that much to add—Justice, as an organisation, does not have a formal position on this—but I agree in terms of protecting the rights of women to access abortion services, obviously, and that should be done in a way that does not infringe the right to protest. The right to protest is not an unlimited right, so there is scope to do something, but it needs to be limited so that it is within the bounds of articles 10 and 11.

Olly Sprague:

We agree totally with that. In general, we would take a very dim view of the idea of protest buffer zones, unless there are exceptionally good reasons. We would be looking at things like drawing on existing regulations around incitement to hatred and privacy rights—those sorts of things. A way of protecting rights on both sides would be seen as important. As Martha said, what mitigation could be allowed to make sure that one right does not overshadow the other, if that makes sense? But, obviously, this is an incredibly sensitive and difficult area.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

Obviously it is, and the reason why I raise it is to illustrate the subjective nature of the judgments about where the line is drawn when balancing rights between competing groups. I guess that that leads Q to my final question. I am not trying to be provocative, but I would be interested to know whether there are occasions in your organisations’ histories when you have campaigned for the rights of those who are affected by protest but not participating in it—the rights of the majority to go about their daily lives. If so, are there things we should be doing to restrict particular protests—for example, for persistent protestors who cause enormous damage or danger to others—that you think should be in the Bill?

Martha Spurrier:

Liberty has a long history of working on the right to protest, both in terms of protestors and members of other communities. For example, we have a rich history of tackling the difficult issue of far right protest and incitement to hatred, where Liberty has very much supported the idea of communities needing to be protected when they are faced with far right, extremist protests. One of the other things that article 10 does, and that policing has had to grapple with since the advent of the Human Rights Act, is to protect counter-protests and protests. You very often have two protests going on at the same time where there is a clash. Again, Liberty has done lots of work to make sure that both protest groups, acting within the law, are protected with their article 10 rights upheld, in so far as that can be done, compatibly with each other.

I absolutely refute the idea that this is subject-specific. The abortion buffer zones case is a really good example. As with many other cases, it is a fact that we have public order laws in this country and we accept that things such as preventing violence and preventing incitement to violence, for example, are an important infringement on protest. Many of those considerations are in play when you think about abortion buffer zones. It is when you are dealing with rights that butt up against other rights that you have to make difficult calls, for sure, but we are saying that the Bill fundamentally gets the balance wrong.

I do not know whether we will have time to get on to the stop-and-search proposals or the offence of locking on. However, thinking about locking on as an example, just very briefly, those who are policing a protest are confronted with a dynamic situation. They are trying to work out at what point that crosses the line and might need to be shut down. If someone locks themselves to an animal testing centre—let us take it out of modern, current examples—the police have to work out at what point that person’s right to lock themselves to the testing centre becomes an infringement of other rights. It might be that the police think, “Actually, that guy can be there for two days and it doesn’t really matter. It’s a perfectly lawful and acceptable exercise of his protest rights. But, at a certain point, it is going to become a problem and we are going to consider removing him.”

If you create an offence of locking on—if you criminalise such specific protest tactics—the minute a man puts his padlock around that testing centre, he has committed a crime. There is no ability for the police to act in a dynamic way, to assess, and to do the balancing act of comparing competing rights. That is it: the tactic is criminalised and that man can be removed immediately, regardless of whether there is any impact on other people.

Of course, any of us who work in this area are really adept at trying to manage competing rights, and that is what the police have to do all the time. But the proposals in the Bill are blunt instruments that will criminalise hitherto lawful activity. They will have a chilling effect on the ability to protest, and they will not deter normal people who want to make their voices heard from trying to do so—instead, the Bill will just criminalise them. It will not deter the hard core, who have breaking the law as one of their tactics, because the provision just falls into what they already do.

Martha Spurrier:

What should we do about protests?

Martha Spurrier:

What about the hard core we already have? The police already have a whole range of measures to deal with hard-core protesters. We have criminal offences and we have specially trained police officers dealing with those people. Someone earlier talked about not living in perfect harmony. A measure of disruption and nuisance is going to be a factor of any protest about any hot political issue at any one time, whether you are talking about the civil rights movement in America, the movement for votes for women with the suffragettes in this country, or the climate justice movement now. You cannot take the sting out of it entirely, because then there would not be protest, and then we would not live in a democracy any more.

Stephanie Needleman:

On the measures that already exist, there is obviously the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which has literally just been passed, which includes measures—the expanded circumstances —under which the police can impose conditions on protests. That just adds to the existing measures. I do not think these new measures have even come into force yet, so we do not know what effect they will have. There is no evidence base that further measures are needed.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Q Sorry, I just thought that, seeing as it is my amendment, I could explain what it proposes, rather than being ventriloquised by the Minister.

The distance need not be 150 metres. We just took that from Ealing, because that is where the main road is, so then it is not in the eyeline. But it again comes back to this question of what is a vigil—those people would say they are doing a prayer vigil—what is a protest and what is harassment. In the eyes of the woman who is going in for a traumatic procedure, it feels like that, and it can be psychologically distressing. The French legislation allows for psychological distress to be considered.

Is there a right to privacy as well? I ask that because the London Borough of Ealing has acted under local authority powers, and only three local authorities in the whole country have done so since 2018, because the process is too onerous. Every time a case has gone to the High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, the privacy of the person having their procedure has trumped freedom of thought, expression, conscience, belief—all that stuff. I just wondered where the three of you stand on that. Again, I am disappointed, because with Sarah Everard, we said so many times, “This should never happen again; she was only walking down the street,” but, in my eyes, these people are just trying to access the pavement to have a perfectly legal procedure. As the Minister pointed out to me in the House the other day, this has been lumped in with the vax protests. I think it is about women—a marginalised community who should be protected, as you said at the start—being able to use the pavement. They should be able to do so unimpeded. What do you three of you think?

Martha Spurrier:

Absolutely there is a right to privacy. One of the conditions in your amendment is to prohibit the filming and photographing of people using the services. We would say that no one has a right to capture someone else’s identifying information and record it. I do not have the amendment in front of me, but the points about harassment, being physically approached or being physically manhandled—anything of that nature—would be a breach of women’s rights and would fall down in favour of women and the buffer zone, not in favour of the protestors.

However, there are also conditions in the amendment on things such as seeking to influence and showing distressing imagery. Our view is that that falls on the other side of the line. People are entitled, as part of their right to protest, to seek to influence people, as long as they do not do so in a way that is harassing. Similarly, if you walk past certain embassies in London—the Chinese embassy, for example—there will often be very distressing images on show as part of protest against states’ policies. The same applies outside abortion clinics, where distressing images may be shown, but may be part of a legitimate right to protest. There is a balancing act.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Q I feel that they should not be on the doors of the clinic, though, because that is deliberately designed to shame women and not really to do anything else. Otherwise, they should be targeting legislators or doing it on the other side of the road, where it is not visible and upsetting.

Olly Sprague:

The only thing I would add is that your location point is quite interesting. The mitigation measure or countermeasure that you might put in place to balance those two rights in a proportionate way might differ depending on the location. In the case you mentioned, it may well be the location of the pavement—I do not know where the clinic is—but for another clinic, there might be a more concealed side entrance or something else that could be used. You would have a different approach to maintaining the dignity and security of women having a perfectly lawful procedure, and managing a counter-protest. You could apply a different model depending on geography.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Q I totally agree; it should be considered case by case. I would have asked about our local police, if I could have had a go. There were two groups—it was “West Side Story”—with the protestors and the counter-protestors, who felt they had to escort people in each time. The process has freed up police time, and no one has been fined under it.

I want to ask about suspicionless stop and search—no one has said anything about it—which corrodes trust for BME communities, and about how body cameras could be a way out of completely suspicionless stop and search.

Martha Spurrier:

Again, just to set the context, the proposal to extend suspicionless stop and search into this area is extraordinary. At the moment, suspicionless stop and search is available in the context of serious violence. It was available in the context of terrorism. It was struck down and Theresa May had to abandon it. That is in the context of crimes that will potentially kill many, many people.

We know that stop-and-search powers are implemented in a racist way. Under suspicion-led stop-and-search powers, a black person—a person of colour—is seven times more likely to be stopped than a white person. Suspicionless stop and search is twice as racist, at 14 times more likely. The idea that you would take a corrosive, racist and deeply controversial policing tool and apply it in the context of protest is extraordinary to us. We cannot see how it will do anything other than cause huge damage for particularly marginalised communities and have a chilling effect on seeking to exercise protest rights, particularly for them. There is a wealth of evidence on the detrimental impact of stop and search, and if there is a threat that people may be stopped and searched at a protest, there is every chance that they simply will not go and make their voice heard.

Olly Sprague:

I agree 100% on suspicionless stop and search. It is enormously problematic and, on this one, Amnesty would say that the proposal fails the test of lawfulness—we talk about proportionate necessity, but there is also one of lawfulness. For example, the confiscation powers that go behind the stop-and-search powers around the locking-on offence capture an enormously broad range of items that an officer could argue might be capable of causing an offence. You have so many caveats that you will get into a situation where an ordinary person could have no idea why they were stopped, or why somebody might be taking an item off them that was completely lawful—everything from string to a bit of glue. It fails on that basic principle of lawfulness, which I think is incredibly problematic.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

Order. You will have to draw it to a close, Mr Sprague, because we are at the end.

Olly Sprague:

Oh, I am sorry, Chair.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

It is not your fault; the Committee had determined certain timescales for the panels, and we have reached the end of the timescale for this panel. My apologies to those I was not able to call during this section.

My thanks to our witnesses—those in the room, and Ms Needleman, who has joined us by Zoom. We are grateful to all the witnesses for their contributions.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Scott Mann.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 14 June at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence to be reported to the House

POB01 Mr Damien Fitzgerald and others (re: reject new Clause 1)

POB02 Liberty

POB03 Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC)

POB04 HS2 Ltd

POB05 Big Brother Watch

POB06 Right To Life UK

POB07 Amnesty International