This weekend, thousands of Yes Cymru supporters are expected to descend on the Welsh capital in anticipation of its’ second independence march of the year in Cardiff.
However, is our right to legitimately and peacefully protest under threat, and what impact could this have on future protests?
The proclamation of King Charles III and his subsequent royal visits across the United Kingdom brought into sharp focus the impact of the Public Order Act and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act – the latter of which was passed earlier this year.
According to an ITV news report published in March 2021, violence against women was not specifically tackled in the Bill, whereas criminal damage to a statue could result in a custodial sentence of up to ten years.
Many have pointed out that the effect of this legislation means that attacking a statue could attract a harsher punishment than attacking a woman. It has also been argued that the legislation could give Police disproportionate powers over the rights of individuals to protest.
The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in Article 11 of the Human Rights Act (Freedom of Assembly and Association), yet here in the UK, it appears to be coming under increasing threat.
Indeed, there are other signs that the UK Government may be loosening its’ commitment to uphold Human Rights.
In June, it was reported that the UK Government had quietly dropped “human rights” and the “rule of law” from its’ list of objectives in negotiating trade deals with Gulf states.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, changes the definition of “disruption”, and imposes a noise trigger, where Police can intervene if they believe the noise generated by protestors may cause a serious impact or disruption.
While most people would agree that causing serious alarm or distress is never acceptable, restricting noise during a protest removes a fundamental feature of protests.
Another key component of the legislation imposes a new and very broad offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”.
According to Liberty, examples of a “public nuisance” offence might include, blocking entrances to buildings, or occupying public spaces.
The crux of this legislation is that it can be interpreted subjectively. Indeed, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act makes it clear that any conduct that can be deemed to cause serious annoyance or inconvenience can constitute a “public nuisance”.
The UK Government has not decided to stop there however. A new Public Order Bill has now reached the report stage.
The Bill, amongst many things, seeks to make provision for new offences relating to public order, including the delegation of police functions relating to them.
The Bill also seeks to create “locking-on” offences, and new stop and search powers that could apply to those attempting to cause obstruction of a highway, or a public nuisance.
The provisions also include the power to carry out stop and search without requiring “reasonable grounds” for doing so.
One may question, is all this legislative activity really the hallmark of a proud, modern nation that prides itself on its’ democracy?
We have reported on the UK Government’s overrule of the Wales Trade Union Act in recent months, and we contend that the act of clamping down on the right to peacefully protest or to strike is not in keeping with the spirit of Welsh values or democracy.
It is time for the Welsh Government to explore an alternative path for our collective future.
This is an article written by Maria Pritchard of Yes Milford Haven and published in the Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper on 30.09.2022