UNITED KINGDOM: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: Analysis of compliance with international human rights standards

– Analysis by ECNL published on 21 April 2021, available here.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, if introduced in its current form, casts protest as an inconvenience rather than a fundamental right to be protected. The Bill is currently at Committee Stage where detailed examination of the Bill takes place.

The UK government quotes examples of protests by different human rights and environmental groups – and the repeated emphasis on the costs associated with these protests –to justify the new powers and penalties set out in the Bill.

However, international human rights standards unequivocally indicate that the essence of right to peaceful assembly incorporates some degree of disruption and explicitly reject any attempt to justify the imposition of restrictions on protest on grounds of cost.

In our analysis, written in collaboration with Michael Hamilton, Associate Professor of Public Protest Law, School of Law, University of East Anglia and member of OSCE-ODIHR Panel on Freedom of Assembly and of Association (@LawOfProtest), we assess the bill’s compliance with international standards and specifically look at:

  • The costs of protests;
  • State obligations to promote an enabling environment for peaceful assemblies;
  • Deliberately disruptive peaceful protest in international human  rights law;
  • Additional thresholds for intervention;
  • Proposed regulation for one-person protests;
  • The meaning of ‘serious disruption’ and its determination;
  • Expansion of the controlled area around the Palace of Westminster, prohibited activities and related police powers;
  • Increased penalties.

We find that the amendments proposed by the Bill will likely violate international human rights standards by striking at the essence of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly by:

  1. conferring discretion on the Home Secretary to define ‘disruption’ without Parliamentary oversight,
  2. introducing vague concepts (e.g., ‘serious unease’) subject to discretionary interpretation by the police;
  3. increasing the powers of the police to decide on fundamental issues about the exercise of the right, and
  4. disproportionately increasing the penalties that protesters may face.

Read the report for more details.