The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill4th April 2021
There is much concern that The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would threaten the right to peacefully protest. Protest is an important part of democratic process, to provide a voice and oppposition. To restrict protest is to silence opposition and quash debate; potentially the roots of a fascist state. Friends of the Earth and Liberty, the human rights organisation, led a coalition of 245 groups in expressing such concerns about this "draconian legislation" in a letter to the government.
Police and media disinformation
A Kill the Bill protest in Bristol on Sunday 21st March 2021 erupted into violence. Police used claims that officers had bones broken to justify actions then quietly retracted those claims. Mainstream media reports (examples: Daily Mail, Telegraph, BBC) contradict first-hand accounts (examples: 1 | 2). Such disinformation by the mainstream media is common. It is important to understand UK media ownership. The Media Reform Coalition's March 2021 report, 'Who owns the UK media?', shows that:
- 90% of printed media, and 80% of both printed and digital media is owned by just 3 companies: News UK, Daily Mail Group, and Reach.
- Almost 70% of all local commercial analogue radio stations, and 60% of national commercial digital stations are owned by just 2 companies: Bauer and Global.
- Facebook controls 3 of the top 5 social media services used in the UK to access news.
Why is this important?
As expressed by the Media Reform Coalition, "Concentrated (media) ownership creates conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass vast political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests." Contrary to what many of us believe, the UK does not have a free press. This Open Democracy article provides reasons why. And Noam Chomsky's 'The Five Filters of the Mass Media Machine' is, I think, brilliant in showing us the true nature and function of the mainstream media. We are being deceived by those who oppress us.
Robert Buckland MP supports the bill. Do the points he makes stand up to scrutiny?
17th March 2021
[Communication re waste incineration, zero waste and DRS]
The Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is of particular concern. Little time has been given for scrutiny and, hence, understanding of the 307 page proposal. 245 organisations including Friends of the Earth, of which Plastic Free Swindon is part, have signed a letter to the government expressing concerns that, if enacted, the Bill would threaten the ability to peacefully protest. Is that the case?
Ben Bell, Plastic Free Swindon co-ordinator
Robert Buckland responded but not on the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Hence:
26th March 2021
[Communication re DRS]
You haven't commented further on the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Will the Bill affect the ability of people and groups to peacefully convey information to the public? Will people and groups be allowed to peacefully oppose the policies and actions of the government? It seems that the government is trying to silence any opposition by criminalising protest. Is that the case?
Ben Bell, Plastic Free Swindon co-ordinator
31st March 2021
This Conservative Government was elected in 2019 on a clear manifesto commitment to make our country safer. This means backing our amazing police and working to prevent and cut crime. It also means bringing offenders to justice swiftly through an efficient court system that maximises use of technology.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will do this by: equipping police officers with the powers and tools they need to keep themselves and all of us safe; putting the Police Covenant into law; doubling the maximum sentence for assaulting workers in our emergency services; tackling unauthorised traveller encampments; requiring schools, police, councils and health authorities to work together through Violence Reduction Units to prevent serious crime; empowering the police by a new court order to target known knife carriers; making it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of knife crime; enabling the trailing of secure schools; improving employment opportunities for ex-offenders; introducing tougher sentences for the worst offenders and ending automatic early halfway release from prison for serious crimes; and introducing tougher community sentences.
This Bill is part of the Government’s wider approach to making our criminal justice system smarter – an effort I am proud to be spearheading as Justice Secretary. By giving the police and courts the powers they need to keep our streets safe from the worst criminals, while also providing opportunities for offenders to turn their lives around, we can rebalance the justice system and restore faith in it, which we now has sadly been in decline for too long.
Over recent years I have been concerned by the extensive disruption that some protests have caused. In particular, stopping people getting on with their daily lives, hampering the free press and blocking access to Parliament. I welcome the fact that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect. These powers will allow the police to safely manage protests where they threaten public order and stop people from getting on with their daily lives.
It is because of this that I welcome the fact that the Government is taking action to ensure the crucial balance between the fundamental right to peaceful protest and the rights of people to get on with their daily lives is maintained.
The measures in the Bill will allow this government to crack down on crime, better protect the public and make our communities safer.
Robert Buckland MP
3rd April 2021
Correlations between wealth and income inequality and many societal ills, including crime and mental health, are well understood. If the government was serious about safer, more secure communities, it would deal with a major root of such problems: inequality. Instead the government continue to exacerbate such problems by widening wealth and income inequality to obscene levels through its actions / policies. The existence of billionaires whilst others are in poverty, hungry and homeless, is obscene. The work of people and organisations such as Oxford University professor Danny Dorling and The Equality Trust have furthered our understanding of wealth and income equality. We now understand its correlations with climate change, mass extinction and plastic pollution, as examples. So it is vital that this inequality is urgently addressed for the health and well-being of all.
I reiterate that 245 organisations, headed by Friends of the Earth and Liberty, both peaceful organisations, are extremely concerned about the "draconian" legislation of The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Concerns are that the government is seeking to silence opposition through criminalisation. Those are the roots of fascism. Hence there is large opposition around the country to the bill. It is noted that the government have tried to rush through this legislation, limiting scrutiny and debate. How does that serve democratic process? How does that serve people?
Re "our amazing police":
In our telephone conversation at the start of March this year, I mentioned the recent case of the 78 old year lady woman protesting in London who was videoed being pushed around and eventually to the floor by police.
I have seen much disturbing footage of police abusing members of the public at protests. Netpol's report on the Extinction Rebellion protests of October 2019 confirm such abuse.
I grew up in London and witnessed the harassment of BAME men by police. For example, The Colour of Injustice report on drugs and law enforcement in England and Wales shows clearly unequal treatment between races.
There is much footage of demonstrations where police use agents provocateurs to instigate violence.
There are many first-hand accounts of how police incited violence in the recent Bristol protests.
How about the HMIC's investigation into sexual abuse by many police officers?
How about undercover police creating false personae and entering into intimate relationships with environmental activists, labelled as "gross violations" by the Undercover Policing Enquiry?
How about the crimes and lies of police at the Battle of Orgreave?
How about the violence of police towards a peace convoy at the Battle of the Beanfield?
How is any that "amazing"?
You claim to care about safety and security:
How does bombing innocent civilians make people safe? The UK is the second biggest arms dealer in the world. £6.5 billion of arms sales sanctioned to the human rights abusers of Saudi Arabia. Over 250,000 Yemeni people killed. Still no response from you on that. Indeed, what can you say? That you are prepared to aid illegitimate war, killing people for profit and control?
How does sanctioning people make them safe? Many have become homeless, many rely on foodbanks and charities to survive, many have died. The DWP tried to cover up suicides resulting from welfare sanctions. Some of those sanctioned have been disabled, some with mental and / or physical health problems. How does sanctioning such people make them or us safe?
How about the 31% of children now considered to be in poverty in the UK? Have the government's choices made them safer? Is it safe for children to be without food? Is it safe for children to be without adequate housing?
How does underfunding the NHS in order to falsely justify its privatisation make people safe? John Pilger's documentary, The Dirty War on the NHS, makes those deceptions clear.
How does fracking make us safe? Fracking is shown in practise to poison the environment and cause earthquakes. Yet the government have repeatedly attempted to force fracking onto communities who don't want it when there are clearly better clean and green options such as wind and solar.
I could provide many more examples. It is clear that the government's actions don't align with claims to care about safety and security. So how can we trust what you convey about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill? Indeed many people do not, hence the current protests. To criminalise protest is to criminalise democratic process, open communication and opposition to, in this case, “draconian legislation”. Those are contraventions of our human rights, which exist to stop such abuse.
Ben Bell, Plastic Free Swindon co-ordinator