Jane Stevenson writes to Sheryll Murray, Conservative MP for South East Cornwall, to explain why the Policing Bill is such a threat to freedom and democracy.
Dear Sheryll Murray,
I am writing to you about my concerns about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (the Policing Bill). There is a lot wrong with this bill, including the government side-stepping Parliament and introducing 18 pages of amendments before it was passed back to the Lords recently. These amendments have made a worrying piece of potential legislation even worse.
I can hardly believe I am writing this, but if the Policing Bill goes through it will soon be illegal for even one person to protest peacefully. All it will take is for someone to lodge a complaint that a protest is causing annoyance, and the protester could be prosecuted and put in prison for up to 51 weeks.
Putting placards in a car to take to a protest could be illegal. Organising a protest on social media could be illegal. Linking arms with other protesters (locking on to each other) could be illegal.
Those paragraphs above are ones I did not think I would ever write to an MP in the UK in my lifetime. These are the sentences of someone who lives in a police state. I do not want to live in a police state. I don’t believe most of the UK public would do either.
Reflecting on previous correspondence, Mrs Murray, on more than one occasion you have told me that you believe in democracy. You said that people had voted for Brexit, and we should respect that. Although we disagreed on what democracy looked like, I think we can say that after all these years we agree on something. We both value democracy.
Peaceful protest is a fundamental part of living in a democracy. Peaceful protest will often be noisy, and annoying to some. We already have laws for criminal damage and violence. There is no reason for such a heavy law criminalising annoyance in protests.
I did not protest until I was 50 years old. We never know when something will happen in our lives which will make us feel the need to make a public stand. Even if people have never protested before, part of living in a democracy is knowing that they could protest peacefully if they wanted to.
Mrs Murray, you would not be a MP if it was not for the women who paved the way before you. They paved the way with protest. I would not be able to vote if was not for those women. If this bill goes through, the actions of those women would be criminalised once more.
Part of being human is making a stand about things that we care about. Even if this is criminalised, no one can take this drive away. Significant numbers of people will always try to make the world a better place for themselves and those who come after them. Even if peaceful protest is criminalised, people will still do it. This country will go through years of unnecessary turmoil and division and eventually these bills will be ripped up. Those who stood up against these anti-human-rights bills will be on the right side of history. Those who push them through, wave them through or remain silent will be on the wrong side of history. You have a chance to be on the right side of history.
I hope you and your colleagues will do everything in your power to make sure that these extremely dangerous amendments are removed, and then that the Bill as it stands does not move forward. If not, I would be interested to know why you are not prepared to stand up for the human rights that underpin our democracy.
I look forward to hearing from you.
If you’d like to contact your MP or a member of the House of Lords, or to stage a mini-protest of your own, the Green Party has a pack of information and materials you can use by clicking here.