UK Liberty

Evidence given to JHCR on Policing and Protest

Posted in freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on October 30, 2008

[hat-tip: NUJ]

A video of evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 21 October 2008 as part of their inquiry into Policing and Protest is available from the Parliament TV website.

(An uncorrected transcript is also available.)

The witnesses were Jeremy Dear (National Union of Journalists), Andrew Gay (Huntingdon Life Sciences), Richard D. North (Social Affairs Unit), Phil McLeish (Climate Camp), Lindis Percy (Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases), Milan Rai (Justice not Vengeance). 

Jeremy Dear supported protests and talked about police harrassment and assaults of journalists at protests and files being kept by the police on journalists.  This week he also met with the Home Secretary to discuss these issues.

Andrew Gay gave some very disturbing evidence about the extremes of ‘protest’ (I hesitate to call it protest), where he and his colleagues, and other people in their area of work, and their families, are harrassed and attacked, with their names and addresses appearing on websites along with suggestions of how to, essentially, stop them from going about their lawful business and enjoying normal life. That sort of behaviour  is criminal and despicable, no matter how greatly the offenders care about animals.

Richard D. North isn’t keen on protests or protestors and thinks they are anti-democratic.  As the BBC reports, he thinks that Parliament should not be “trumped” by demonstrations or indulge the “fantasies” of those taking part in them that that they were “scruffily clad peasants” taking on a “state behemoth”.  [he later clarified this: “My argument is that in a parliamentary democracy no protest has the right to be an uncontrolled nuisance”.]

However, it seems to Lindis Percy (and indeed other members of the public, see the Power Inquiry and the Hayden Phillips review of party funding) that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get satisfaction through the formal processes of our democracy, particularly with a Government that has a large majority.

Milan Rai was arrested under s132 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 after reading out the names of military and civilian victims of the Iraq war at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and subsequently fined £350 (a court judgement here dealt with four appeals against similar convictions, including his), and imprisoned for refusing to pay it. I think he diluted his points when he meandered from the topic into the area of climate change.

(A bit of the discussion, a fair point about how protest impacts on members of the public who aren’t interested, so should protestors be confined to a particular area, reminded of an episode of Arrested Development, Whistler’s Mother, when protestors are confined to a “free speech zone” and the media are confined to an out of sight “free press zone”.)