It comes as no surprise that Gordon Brown’s comments about freedom to protest have turned out to be doublespeak and spin. The government is currently consulting — via a webpage! — on Sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) (2005), which ban unauthorised protest within one square kilometre of Parliament. The consultation is being presented as a move to repeal the draconian laws. But the way the questions are posed in the consultation suggest that is actually an attempt to bring in far greater police powers in relation to “public order”.
Gordon Brown wants to “harmonise” police powers to control marches and demonstrations across the UK. That will mean extended current police powers in most recent Public Order Act (1986) that apply to marches so that they cover all assemblies. At the same time he wants to strengthen police control around Parliament Square, so that marches as well as assemblies can be banned. The state already has a raft of powers to control, restrict and ban dissent in the form of the Public Order Act, The Terrorism Act, ASBO legislation and various bye-laws.
Protestors since the 2005 G8 protests in Scotland — when many current police powers were tried out — have felt the punch of the complex and confusing array of arrestable laws. Bascially the police can arbitrarily break up any protest, up to and including leafleting on a high street!
The devil will no doubt be in the detail of the new legislation and we should all pay attention and oppose any extension of police power over the right to assemble. Equally, the existing powers need to be challenged politically and also broken in practice by organized popular movements. We also need to advocate positive programme of civil liberties, free speech, freedom of assembly and demonstration.
See www.indymedia.org.uk for details of the Freedom of Assembly Day of Action, 12 January. The “consultation” closes on the 17 January.