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Police powers are minimising the effectiveness of protests with eco-groups arrested within seconds
1 December 2023, 11:39 | Updated: 1 December 2023, 12:20
I’ve been following and reporting on the eco-activist group Just Stop Oil since they were formed just two years ago, and as their tactics have been forced to change to keep up with new laws, there’s a real question now of what they will do next.
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The disruption caused by their road-blocking and slow-marching has led to some of the toughest restrictions on protest the UK has seen - and police are making the most of their new powers, diminishing the effectiveness of the demonstration.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve witnessed warnings being issued by officers, under Section 7 of the newly updated Public Order Act, immediately as groups of protesters step on to the road.
On one occasion, I timed how long it would take for the street to be cleared.
Ten seconds in, people were being put into handcuffs and within 90 seconds, the last of the activists was being carried onto the pavement.
It’s barely a protest anymore.
We’ve already seen tactics being switched - from people sitting, lying, or gluing themselves to the road, to now slow marching.
Even that isn’t working now.
Exploring the impact of the Public Order Act, the law has been described to me as ‘dangerous’, by one human rights law expert.
Jun Pang, from Liberty, said: “When you have broad, vague and severe laws on the statute book that clamp down on protest, they never only impact one protest group, their effect is always much wider and that is something that should concern any of us, given not only the importance of protest but the role protest plays in social change and our democracy.”
The government says the law is about making sure people can go about their daily lives without being disrupted while balancing the right to protest.
While the police have said they also have to balance that right with the law - which now explicitly says it’s illegal to “do an act which interferes with the use or operation of any key national infrastructure in England and Wales” including roads.
So where does Just Stop Oil go next? Or have they now done all they can, legally, to shout about their cause?
Arrested in 10 seconds: The new police powers to stop Just Stop Oil