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Baroness Shami Chakrabarti: 'Leading Britain's conversation means protecting it'

7 February 2023, 18:38 | Updated: 8 February 2023, 12:42

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti welcomes the passing of 'Charlotte's Law'
Baroness Shami Chakrabarti welcomes the passing of 'Charlotte's Law'. Picture: Parliament

By Baroness Chakrabarti

The House of Lords, inspired by LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch, passed an amendment to the controversial Public Order Bill to protect journalists and others who observe or report on protests from abuses of police power.

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LBC listeners will remember Charlotte’s appalling treatment by Hertfordshire Police last November.

In possession of an accredited press card and clearly marked recording equipment, she was arrested, handcuffed, deprived of her devices and bundled off to a police cell for over five hours, just for doing her job of reporting on Just Stop Oil demonstrations on the M25.

These demonstrations have divided opinion in the country. Some say they have become essential to focus politicians and the wider public on the climate catastrophe that will face our planet without more urgent action.

Others argue that disruption of traffic and public transport is counterproductive to persuading people to the cause.

Whichever view we take of this kind of protest, we can surely agree that whilst some direct action will inevitably cross a line and justify police arrests, perhaps even criminal prosecution, being a journalist or innocent bystander should not.

Read more: 'Arrested for doing my job': LBC's Charlotte Lynch tells of being held in a cell while covering M25 protest

Read more: Suella Braverman marshals Tory peers against 'Charlotte's Law' after LBC reporter's arrest covering eco-protest

Victory for Charlotte Lynch after her arrest
Victory for Charlotte Lynch after her arrest. Picture: Station Owned

Reporters like Charlotte Lynch play a vital role in any democracy, informing us all about what happened on any particular demonstration. What were the arguments for and against? How much disruption was caused? How did the protesters and police officers behave?

We do not want to take the path of too many countries in the world today where journalists risk arrest and even their lives, for just doing their job.

But even in Britain, this job has got harder in recent years, with more and more powers of stop and search and arrest, drafted in such broad terms that inexperienced or badly trained police officers can begin to see reporters in public order situations as an irritation and fair game.

Even if they have no intention, still less hope of an eventual criminal charge against a journalist, they might think that several hours in a police cell might make them a little more reluctant to go out on such a reporting job next time. This is a classic example of abusive policing creating a “chilling effect” on rights and freedoms in society.

Charlotte Lynch tells James O'Brien she 'just lost it' while being under arrest

I will never forget Charlotte’s professionalism and courage in reporting on her own ordeal on Nick Ferrari’s morning programme that informs and encourages our democratic debate.

If the House of Commons agrees with the Lords’ amendment that we wrote and passed in her honour, police powers will not be able to be used within the law for the primary purpose of preventing the observation or other reporting of protests.

That will protect accredited journalists and legal observers who attend demonstrations to bear witness to the peaceful or heavy handed actions of protesters and police. But it will also protect innocent bystanders who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and decide to capture what they are witnessing on a mobile phone.

Sometimes leading Britain’s conversation means protecting it.

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