Rights groups call on Government to rethink Public Order Bill after journalists’ arrests

Big Brother Watch Team / November 12, 2022

Rights groups call on Government to rethink Public Order Bill after journalists’ arrests

Human rights organisations have called on the Government to pause and rethink the Public Order Bill, following the arrests of three journalists at Just Stop Oil demonstrations on Tuesday. Hertfordshire Constabulary arrested three journalists under suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance at the protest, all of whom were later released with no further action taken. The groups who include Liberty, Big Brother Watch and Amnesty International UK, condemned the arrests as a threat to press freedom in the UK.

In a letter to the Home Secretary the organisations questioned the creation of additional police powers to restrict the right to protest and asked for the Public Order Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords, to be paused. The groups also call for a review of the new public nuisance offence, arguing that the offence, which was placed on a statutory footing by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, is too broad in scope and unduly limits a wide range of democratic activities.

Commenting, Mark Johnson, Legal and Policy Officer at Big Brother Watch said:

“The arrests of journalists by Hertfordshire Constabulary were a gross violation of press freedom in the UK, but these arrests did not occur in a vacuum. Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, the Government created sweeping new authoritarian powers that seriously threaten civil liberties in the UK. The arrests directly show the risks of creating broad laws which unduly limit democratic activities.

“In light of these events that the Government must urgently pause its Public Order Bill, which will take police powers to restrict protest rights to an unprecedented level in this country.”

Jun Pang, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty said:

“A free, independent press is a vital part of any well-functioning democracy, but this week we’ve seen how sweeping anti-protest powers given to the police are damaging press freedoms and our basic rights. The reports we’ve heard of the arrests of journalists are deeply concerning. Press, film crews and journalists should be able to cover protests without fear of being harassed, having their footage seized or being arrested.

“This is being enabled and encouraged by the Government’s dangerous assault on protest rights. With the ink on the Policing Act not yet dry, the Government is trying to resurrect dangerous anti-protest proposals that the people and Parliament have already loudly rejected just months ago. The new Public Order Bill expands stop and search powers, creates protest banning orders, and brings in a raft of new offences that target tactics most often used by climate justice protesters. It will impact everybody’s rights by striking at the heart of what makes protest effective and widening the criminal dragnet.”

“In recent years we’ve seen this Government hand out sweeping powers to police which have been used to create a hostile environment for protesters and an increasingly dangerous working environment for journalists who face intimidation and arrest for simply doing their jobs. But this is not an isolated incident. The Public Order Bill will have a chilling effect on the right to protest, criminalising anyone attempting to make themselves heard. The arrests we’ve seen this week show that we are heading in the wrong direction. In a functioning democracy, everyone must be able to stand up to power.”


To view the letter to the Home Secretary, please click here.

Spokespeople are available for interviews. Contact Big Brother Watch’s 24h media line on 07730439257 or email info@bigbrotherwatch.org.uk

Hertfordshire Constabulary issued a statement following the arrests at 18:54 on 8.11.22. Hertfordshire Constabulary then issued a second statement at 11:46 on 9.11.22 regarding the arrests of the journalists.


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