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Police could be allowed to stop and search people ‘without suspicion’ in new protest crackdown

New amendments to the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill propose further restrictions on protests.

Police could be given powers to carry out stop and search “without suspicion” as part of a fresh crackdown on protests.

New Lords amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill propose legalising stop and search “without suspicion” in protest contexts, as well as criminalising “locking on” to objects or being “equipped” to do so. 

Officers are only meant to carry out stop and searches if they have “reasonable grounds” to do so.

‘No suspicion’ searches are currently restricted for use when Section 60 orders are in place. Such orders are commonly used by police following a spate of violence, or when officers anticipate violence, in a postcode area.

Legal campaigner Griff Ferris condemned the amendments as “the latest authoritarian high-water mark in this government’s attempts to eradicate all opposition to its rule”.

The amendments come in the wake of recent protest actions from organisations like Insulate Britain, who have glued themselves to roads and cars in protest demonstrations. 

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Earlier this month, several arrests were made after demonstrators glued themselves to a slip road to protest the government’s inaction on retrofitting homes.

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The PCSC Bill has been widely condemned by human rights groups for attempting to curtail protest rights through limits on noise permitted at demos and hefty prison sentences for those deemed to be causing a “public nuisance”. 

The bill is currently going through the House of Lords, and fresh amendments were published on Monday. 

Lord minister Baroness Williams of Trafford proposes to make stop and search “without suspicion” legal where a police officer of or above the rank of inspector “reasonably believes” a person may be carrying a “prohibited object”, or if the officer believes a public nuisance offence or an offence under section 137 of the Highways Act, such as wilful obstruction, may be committed.

Anyone an officer “reasonably believes” may “lock on” or obstruct major transport works could also be stopped.

The amendment continues: “This section confers on any constable in uniform power – (a) to stop any person and search them or anything carried by them for a prohibited object; (b) to stop any vehicle and search the vehicle, its driver and any passenger for a prohibited object.

“A constable may, in the exercise of the powers conferred by [the above], stop any person or vehicle and make any search the constable thinks fit whether or not the constable has any grounds for suspecting that the person or vehicle is carrying a prohibited object.”

A summary of the amendment by Baroness Williams reads: “This amendment makes provision for a senior police officer to give an authorisation applying to a specified locality for a specified period and allowing a constable to stop and search a person or vehicle for an object made, adapted or intended for use in the course of or in connection with an offence listed in the amendment.

“While the authorisation is in force the constable may exercise the power whether or not they have any grounds for suspecting the person or vehicle is carrying such an object.”

Earlier this month, the Home Office refused to release its annual stop and search data, which outlines stop and search incidents by ethnicity. 

Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people, official figures for England and Wales show.

Another new clause inserted by Baroness Williams proposes a new offence of “locking on”, which would see people criminalised for intentionally attaching themselves to a person, object or land with the intent of causing “serious disruption”.

The lowest threshold for causing “serious disruption” is if “two or more” individuals are disrupted.

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A further clause proposes that those who commit the offence of “locking on” will face a fine or up to 51 weeks in prison. 

Baroness Williams’ amendments also include an offence for being “equipped for locking on”, which would make it a crime for a person to “have an object with them in a place other than a dwelling with the intention that it will be used in connection with the offence of locking on”.

The punishment for this offence would be a fine. 

It’s not clear from the amendment what kind of objects would fall under this offence, but one example might be carrying superglue with the intent to “lock on” to an object or land as part of a protest. 

For protesters who have been convicted, proposed amendments to the bill are even more restrictive.

A new clause proposes introducing “serious disruption prevention orders” for protesters which could prohibit them from “being at a particular place between particular times on particular days”, “participating in particular activities” and even “using the internet” to carry out protest-related activities. 

The PCSC bill is currently going through committee stage in the House of Lords, and a date for the third reading hasn’t been set yet.

Protest groups and human rights campaigners fear the bill presents a massive infringement on human rights, with demonstrators already facing legal consequences for participating in demos. 

On Wednesday, nine members of Insulate Britain were jailed after breaching an injunction to protest on roads in the UK. 

Ferris, a legal and policy officer at criminal justice NGO Fair Trials said: “The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill already contains a host of new criminal offences, including targeting protests and blatantly racist criminalisation of Travellers’ and other people’s way of life. 

“These newest restrictions on personal freedoms and rights are the latest authoritarian high-water mark in this government’s attempts to eradicate all opposition to its rule, including current and growing movements against its own racist policing, hostile environment, prison expansions and climate inaction.”

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