Legislation currently being considered by Parliament could allow local councils to place serious limitations on behaviour in public spaces, including restrictions on the ability of citizens to protest.
According to the Joint Committee of the House of Lords and House of Commons, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill could grant local councils new powers to break up lawful protests in certain regulated spaces.
The report of the Joint Committee admits that the bill will give protection to lawful picketing and to certain processions, protected under previous legislation, but also explains that the dispersal powers granted in the new bill “could be used to target other forms of peaceful assembly, such as static assemblies and impromptu protests”.
The legislation has also raised concerns among several freedom-oriented organisations. The director of one such group, the Manifesto Club, warned that “There is widespread evidence of the over-use of existing powers, which are already too broad and have been employed unjustly to interfere with law-abiding individuals.”
The range of concerns regarding the bill is wide and groups criticising the bill have made apparent that they believe that many members of the public could be affected by the new powers granted by the bill. They have also noted that violations of the local councils’ rules could lead to immediate and costly fines.
The first reading of the bill came in May, two months before the University of London announced that it would no longer tolerate demonstrations in certain areas of the University campus.