A group of voluntary sector organisations have protested outside the Home Office against new anti-protest measures contained in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Eleven civil society organisations, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Liberty and Christian Aid, say that more than 800,000 people have signed petitions backing their opposition to the legislation, which is being debated in the House of Lords today.
The group says the bill increases police powers to restrict protests and criminalise protesters, creates a number of new protest offences and introduces disproportionately harsh sentences that would put civil liberties at risk.
It is calling for the government to drop provisions in the legislation including those that “threaten freedom of expression and assembly” and “increase sentences and police powers aimed at restricting protesters”.
The group says the bill increases restrictions that police can put on static demonstrations, enables them to put limits on a protest based on the level of noise it could make and enables people to be prosecuted for breaching police restrictions on a protest even if they were unaware of them.
Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said: “The ability to make our voices heard through protest, and to hold those with power accountable for their actions, is the lifeblood of democracy. The bill contains clauses that would criminalise peaceful protest, an essential means to hold the powerful to account in democracies worldwide and make sure politicians act on their word.”
Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “The bill is an assault on our rights from a government that despises scrutiny and rejects accountability, which thinks the powerful should be above the law and the most marginalised should be subject to ever-more discrimination, coercion and control."
“These new powers are a threat to our rights, and an opportunistic move from a government determined to shut down dissent, stifle democratic scrutiny and make itself untouchable.”
A group of charity membership bodies last year warned that the legislation, which has already passed through the House of Commons, would undermine democracy and discriminate against minorities.