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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Bill McLoughlin

‘Ripe for abuse’: Outrage over anti-protest bill giving police more power while expanding stop and search

A new bill giving the police more power to stop protests has been condemned by a Labour peer following the release of the damning Casey report.

The Public Order Bill returned to the House of Commons on Wednesday and once passed, protests whereby activists lock or glue themselves onto each other or buildings - as used by Insulate Britain - will now be criminalised.

Going further, police officers will also be given further stop and search powers while even going “equipped to lock on”, meaning where a person is found “to have an object with them in a place other than a dwelling”, will become an offence.

The legislation comes after Baroness Dame Louise Casey claimed the Met Police was institutionally sexist, racist and homophobic as she said Scotland Yard had failed Londoners.

Considering the restrictions on the right to protest, Labour peer Baroness Shami Chakrabarti likened the new bill to “anti-terrorism legislation”.

“These powers are going to be used and abused by accident or design against people who may not even be protestors.

“Let’s remember that Sarah Everard was in the situation because Couzens abused his position as an off-duty police officer. This kind of power is ripe for abuse.

“There is a direct relationship between this legislation and the Casey report as you are giving year on year more blank cheque powers to the police,” the peer told the Standard.

“It is outrageous that this is going through at a time when we have had the Wayne Couzens and David Carrick cases.”

The legislation would also impose banning orders on anyone who has previously been convicted for protesting.

The Commons disagreed with the Lords’ amendments seeking to tighten controls on the use of stop and search without suspicion near to protests by 296 votes to 229 on Wednesday.

The upper chamber had previously attempted to strip out the clause expanding stop and search without suspicion, sought to tighten restrictions around the use of the powers by raising the threshold at which they could be used, reduce the time period for use, and increase transparency. The bill will now return to the Lords where peers will consider any further amendments.

Labour shadow Home Office minister Sarah Jones said: “This Government is introducing suspicionless stop and search for potential protests, an overreach of the law that the police haven’t asked for and which pushes the balance of rights and responsibilities away from the British public.”

She mentioned the “excoriating” Casey review, which “among much else, calls for a fundamental reset in how stop and search is used in London”, and referenced the finding that racial disparities continue in how the powers are used in the capital.

Despite the criticism aimed at the bill, Home Office minister Chris Philp said: “Stop and search is a vital tool that’s used to crack down on crime and protect communities.

“And we see it as appropriate in the face of large, fast-paced environments, where it can be difficult for the police to reach the level of suspicion required for a suspicion-led stop and search, for them to have this power available as well.”

The Home Office and Metropolitan Police have been approached for comment.

Jun Pang, Policy and Campaigns Officer at civil rights campaign group, Liberty said: “The bill hands even more powers to the police, increasing the risk of people being criminalised and discriminated against.

“This will make it more dangerous for communities of colour and people from marginalised groups to exercise their fundamental right to speak truth to power.

“In light of the appalling Casey Review, it’s deeply shocking that the current political thinking across the board still appears to prioritise increased police powers.

“This is not the answer. We already know that the powers of the police are so broad that they will always be open to abuse.”

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