The Public Order Act 2023 is working as intended and I'm terrified

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The Public Order Act 2023 is working as intended and I'm terrified

Post by Fishnut » Sun May 21, 2023 6:17 pm

The Public Order Act 2023 is an extension of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. We discussed the 2022 act here and Cardinal Fang shared a article by the Good Law Project on the harm it could do to our right to protest. In that article they explained that,
The wording of the relevant clauses would capture nearly every protest and justify police restrictions in nearly every case.
Police officers will have to make judgments on whether, for example, specific chants may be considered ‘intimidating’ or ‘harassing’ and what the intensity of the impact of any noise is. Further, the words ‘unease’, ‘alarm’ and ‘distress’ are so vague in this context as to be meaningless. They leave the door open for misuse and misinterpretation.
The police will have considerable scope to test the limits of their own powers. The reality of protests is that police are likely to be more heavy-handed than less. As Professor David Meads (who specialises in the law of protest and public order) observed: “Th(e) real problem for protesters and activists is not (always) so much the law – the legal rules and position – but how this is implemented and interpreted on the ground by officers; generally speaking the wider framed the law, even more widely used will be the operational power”.
They conclude,
The logical consequence of the above is that people could be dissuaded from marching or demonstrating. Even if people did march or demonstrate, there is the possibility that the police would impose conditions that are not legally valid and will result in protests being shut down. All of this will likely have a chilling effect on law-abiding peaceful protesters. It is of little practical value to say that these conditions can later be challenged in court.
Remember, this is just the potential impact of the 2022 bill. The 2023 bill, rushed in ahead of of the coronation, expanded police powers even further, and limited the ability to protest even more.

The coronation was supposed to be a "chance to showcase our liberty" according to security minister, Tom Tugendhat when asked to defend these new laws. It really was, just not in the way that was intended. Instead it was a showcase of how far we have slipped into a police state. Instead of the Potemkin village of loyal monarchists waving flags for our supreme overlord, the world's press was recounting how peaceful protesters had been arrested and how the police had even managed to arrest a woman for simply being too close to protesters.

As the days have gone on, the extent of the police overreach has become apparent.

Republic Protests
The most prominent arrests were of people protesting with the pro-republic group Republic. Graham Smith, the group's chief executive, told the press ahead of the coronation that he had been liaising with Metropolitan police to ensure their protest was within the bounds of the law.
"We have been in direct contact with liaison officers and have met with senior commanders, who we have been very clear with about what we intend to do. Their response is that they are happy for us to proceed..."
Despite this liaising, he still received a 'warning' letter from the Home Office explaining the new law, in what was widely seen as an attempt at intimidation. Smith said,
“Lawyers who we have been in touch with agree it sounds like intimidation and we are currently waiting for assurances from police nothing has changed.”
Even with all this work, Smith and five colleagues were arrested by Metropolitan police at 6.40am on the morning of the coronation. The police claimed that the luggage straps Republic intended to use to hold its placards onto trolleys while they were being moved to the protest site were capable of being used by the protesters to 'lock on' and they were thus breaking the law.

The Met police's statement is worth dissecting,
At 06:40hrs, officers working as part of the security operation in central London observed a group of people unloading items from a vehicle on St Martin’s Lane in Westminster close to the restricted zone near the Coronation procession route. Taking into account the information that people were seeking to seriously disrupt the event, and the significance of the security operation, officers had been briefed to be extremely vigilant and proactive.
Officers had been briefed to be extra vigilant but had apparently been given no information about protests which the Met had been informed about and authorised. That is bad policing.

Also, that 'information that people were seeking to seriously disrupt the event', seems to be some b.llsh.t the Daily Mail made up. I appreciate that real security threats are unlikely to be made public, those that were made public are so stupid I find it incredible that anyone could take them seriously. (We will come back to these stories more fully when we look at another set of arrests).
They searched the vehicle and, as well as a large number of placards, found items which at the time they had reasonable grounds to believe could be used as lock on devices. Taking into account the information they had, and the overall concern regarding security, six people were arrested on suspicion of going equipped for locking on, contrary to Section 2 Public Order Act 2023. One man was also arrested for possession of a knife/pointed article.
Those 'lock on devices' were the luggage straps. I can't be sure, but I suspect the 'knife/pointed article' was to be used to break the plastic wrapping around the placards. I think it's important to ask, did the police really have 'reasonable grounds' to suspect these items were going to be used to tie protesters to immovable objects? They are fabric, they are pretty easy to cut - it's not like you're going to need an angle grinder or something to break them, just a decent sharp knife. And the fabric type and size makes them difficult to tighten in a way that can't be easily untied. If you were looking to attach yourself to something in a way that would cause difficulties to unattach you, luggage straps would be one of the last items you'd use. Plus, while there are protests where locking on is a tactic, Republic was there to protest the coronation. They wanted to wave some placards and shout some chants. Locking on would have no value.

Personally, I do not think the police had 'reasonable grounds' to suspect these items were going to be used for criminal activities, that the explanation of the protesters regarding their use was reasonable and that the police were, in fact, searching for a reason - any reason - to arrest these protesters and stop them from exercising their democratic right to protest.
It was not clear at the time that at least one of the group stopped had been engaging with police Protest Liaison Team officers ahead of the event. The Protest Liaison Team were not the arresting officers nor were they present in St Martin’s Lane at the time of the arrest.
This is b.llsh.t. The Met were given the name of the liaison officer that Smith had been working with in the weeks prior to the coronation and Smith even attempted to call him but was prevented from doing so by being arrested and having his phone confiscated. Again, these are not the actions of a police force acting on 'reasonable grounds' but are doing everything they can to limit our rights.
The investigation team have now fully examined the items seized and reviewed the full circumstances of the arrest. Those arrested stated the items would be used to secure their placards, and the investigation has been unable to prove intent to use them to lock on and disrupt the event. This evening all six have had their bail cancelled and no further action will be taken. We regret that those six people arrested were unable to join the wider group of protesters in Trafalgar Square and elsewhere on the procession route.
Smith and his colleagues were released after 10pm, which meant that the news bulletins had finalised their broadcast schedules for the night and the papers had their stories set so the protesters would have to wait until the following day to get their side of things broadcast.

They were bailed and then the charges were dropped and their phones returned. Police have apologised. Smith has not accepted the apology and will be taking further action.

Going back to the Good Law Project's concerns we can see them all playing out. In this case the definition of 'lock on device' is so broad that the police could interpret it to mean that luggage straps with a clear legal purpose had the potential to be used for illegal purposes and arrest people on their flights of fancy. They were more heavy-handed than they needed to be - even preventing Smith from speaking with the liaison officer to confirm they had coordinated with the very Met that was now arresting them. And while the protest was not shut down, it was limited, and while Smith and his colleagues were not charged they were prevented from exercising their democratic rights and that, really, was the purpose. I am sure that these officers knew the arrests would not hold but that wasn't the point. Intimidation was. You can do everything right and still end up in a prison cell for 12 hours. Who on earth is going to want to risk that?

Night Stars
These arrests were briefly discussed here.
The Night Stars are a volunteer group organised by Westminster City Council as part of their night safety team. They work in partnership with the Metropolitan police to promote women’s safety and reduce violence against women and girls in the West End. They help women stay safe by providing them with support and practical items such as slippers (for when they can no longer walk in heels), bottles of water, hairbands and rape alarms.

Three volunteers were out in Soho in the early hours of Saturday morning doing their jobs and were arrested by Metropolitan police around 2am and taken to Walworth Station, where the Republic protesters would later be taken. Their arrest would most likely have flown under the radar had it not been that journalist Mic Wright was at the station to report on the Republic arrests and saw two of the volunteers being released. He has a write-up of the arrests here. One of those arrested, Suzie Melvin, spoke to the home affairs committee and I recommend watching this clip in full. It's only 3 minutes and she explains how she and her two colleagues were accosted by a number of Territorial Support Group vans and a 'large number of officers'. Despite explaining who they were and showing them their leaflets, website, jackets with the Met logo on them (because they work in partnership with the Met) they still arrested them and took them to Walworth police station. Suzie was only interviewed at 1pm and then released at 4pm.

The Met claimed they had received reports that people were planning to use rape alarms to disrupt the coronation procession. And this is where we come back to the Daily Mail. Because, it seems that they made this up. This
explains how the Mail has whipped up the story (they printed at least two stories about this in the run up to the coronation, including one where they got an Ex-Grenadier Guardsman to "slam" the 'plot'. The simplest telling seems be that the Met and other security forces bought into the Mail's b.llsh.t and ended up arresting volunteers as a result.

In her testimony, Suzie said that the police were actively looking for the group.
[She] told the House of Commons home affairs select committee that her arresting officer had informed her that “they were specifically looking for the Night Stars” and had been told in advance where to find them. She said the officer also told her that, having at first failed to locate her and her two colleagues, the police were “later told where we were, in Soho Square, and so then they found us, which would suggest that there was some intelligence they had received”.
London Assembly Chair Caroline Russell told Sadiq Khan at Mayors Question Time,
that there was an inconsistency between what the Met had said prior to the coronation about its approach to local partnerships such as the Night Stars and what had occurred which to her felt “really worrying”.
Westminster City Council have confirmed all three volunteers have been released without charge and have asked for an apology from the Met to them. Meanwhile, the shift the following week ended up being cancelled because of press intrusion.

The police, acting on what seems like b.llsh.t 'intelligence' arrested volunteers in the early hours of the morning several miles away from the parade route. If they were going to disrupt the parade wouldn't they have been asleep at 2am, not up and about in Soho handing out the very devices they were supposedly going to use hours later? Again, the 'reasonable grounds' test fails. I am honestly baffled by the police's actions with this one. It is clearly targeted yet anyone with an ounce of sense could see that these are not people who are going to be out disrupting the coronation. What were they thinking?

The Royalist
Alice Chambers was arrested for 13 hours when trying to watch the procession. She was stood near a group of Just Stop Oil protesters and was arrested on suspicion of “potential to cause a breach of peace”.

In the Good Law Project's article they say the bill,
...establishes a new offence where a person breaches a condition that they “ought to have known” existed – thereby criminalising inadvertent breaches.
This woman was arrested simply for being in the vicinity of a protest. It didn't matter that this protest was legal, it didn't matter that she wasn't associated with it. Merely being in the same general location was sufficient 'evidence' to arrest her.

Animal Rising
14 people were gathered in a small room in a rented work space in Haggerston, east London, on the morning of the coronation. They were there to attend a seven-hour seminar about non-violent protest that was being run a primary school teacher affiliated with social protest group Animal Rising. None of them had met before.

About 10.25am around 25 police officers swarmed into the room.
“They were all talking at once, saying you are under arrest, so I couldn’t hear why,” Hillwood [the primary school teacher leading the seminar] said. “I said: ‘What are you talking about?’ Because they were saying that we were Just Stop Oil and that we were going to disrupt the coronation. And I was just like: ‘Absolutely not. I mean, we’re miles away. And we’re going to be here all day. We’ve got no intention of leaving.’” By this time, the king’s procession was already arriving at Westminster Abbey.
Eight of them were taken to Brixton police station; six were taken to Stoke Newington police station. The group were let out on bail in the evening pending further investigation.
It seems that the building had been previously used by Just Stop Oil.
The police had mentioned some placards lying around in part of the building, and some paint unconnected to the training.
Sir Mark Rowley claimed the Met found people pretending to be stewards in possession of paint but given in the same sentence he claimed they found people in possession of lock-on devices I'm going to take that claim with a pinch of salt until proven otherwise. I'm strongly suspecting that these cans are going to be the source of the paint claims.

Just Stop Oil
Just Stop Oil say that 21 people were arrested for peacefully protesting. The Met claim that 13 were arrested. I've been unable to find any further information about these arrests, hampered by the fact that a further 13 were arrested the following Thursday for peacefully protesting.

Still to Identify
The police arrested 64 people during the coronation, of which 52 were related to concerns about disruption. I've discussed 37-45 here (Republic - 6; Night Stars - 3; Monarchist - 1; Animal Rising - 14; Just Stop Oil - 13 or 21) which means there's still between 7 and 15 whose circumstances are unknown. It may be that the reason these haven't garnered attention is that they were legitimate arrests of people who truly were going to cause significant disruption to the event.

But at best we have nonsense arrests in 71% of cases. Given that so far, only four charges have been brought (which means, at most, 4 people have been charged, though it could be 1 person with 4 charges), that's a charge rate of less than 8%. That's appalling. At best we have between 37 and 45 people who had done nothing wrong being held in a police cell for up to 16 hours, being denied their rights, having their phones confiscated, being detained for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

These are not the actions of a functioning democracy. These are the actions of a state that is trying to silence dissent, trying to intimidate and scare people from exercising their rights. The Met had the eyes of the world on them and this is how they acted. They felt able to arrest people for the flimsiest of reasons even with the world watching. And even with the world watching we still have people unaccounted for. Who are they? What did they do? Are they still in custody? Who knows. Honestly, that worries me even more than the cases we do know about.
it's okay to say "I don't know"

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Re: The Public Order Act 2023 is working as intended and I'm terrified

Post by JQH » Mon May 22, 2023 10:15 am

Thanks for this.
I can only repeat what I wrote on FaceBook on 9 May:
Peaceful protesters against the installation of an unelected head of state are arrested on trumped up charges. A journalist filming the arrests was also arrested and held for 18 hours.
A government minister defends the arrests by claiming there was a plot to endanger public safety. No evidence is put forward, which is hardly surprising as the "plot" is entirely fictional.
Folks, this didn't happen in Moscow or Beijing.
We are a long way down the road to becoming a police state.
And remember that if you botch the exit, the carnival of reaction may be coming to a town near you.

Fintan O'Toole

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Re: The Public Order Act 2023 is working as intended and I'm terrified

Post by bob sterman » Tue May 23, 2023 7:42 am

Also fan of unelected head of state arrested - no doubt not smiling and celebrating conspicuously enough. Not North Korea... ... 37763.html

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Re: The Public Order Act 2023 is working as intended and I'm terrified

Post by JQH » Tue May 23, 2023 8:08 am

Fishnut's "The Royalist" section covers that.
And remember that if you botch the exit, the carnival of reaction may be coming to a town near you.

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Re: The Public Order Act 2023 is working as intended and I'm terrified

Post by IvanV » Tue May 23, 2023 2:17 pm

The lead article in the Britain section of this week's Economist focuses on why this law goes too far.

ETA: And points out that Starmer says he won't repeal it, doubtless to avoid being accused of being "soft on crime".

I find it truly dreadful that Labour has often been just as bad as the Tories on justice, to avoid this apparent reputational slur. The "soft on crime" slur makes it impossible to have a grown-up discussion on doing the right thing.

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Re: The Public Order Act 2023 is working as intended and I'm terrified

Post by noggins » Tue May 23, 2023 5:32 pm

I wondering, what power does the government have in the police decision - to let this march go ahead but not that one.

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Re: The Public Order Act 2023 is working as intended and I'm terrified

Post by IvanV » Tue May 23, 2023 6:04 pm

noggins wrote:
Tue May 23, 2023 5:32 pm
I wondering, what power does the government have in the police decision - to let this march go ahead but not that one.
In theory, none. It is the duty of the police to interpret the law as they see it. And there are plenty of examples of them over-interpreting it. Though it wouldn't surprise me if in reality they talk to the Home Office about the "interpretation" of new legislation from time to time. And Home Secretaries are probably not beyond making suggestions to them in such meetings.

For an example of the police over-interpreting things, the police now go around arresting people who are rude online. There's no legislation that was passed with that intent. Rather they do it by over-reading a piece of legislation which was supposed to be about the use of telecommunications for extortion and other criminal threats, things that would be illegal if you said them to someone's face. But the police have extended the interpretation into being rude. The twitter joke trial was a test of it, which demonstrated in theory it had been over-interpreted. But after winning through all the lower courts, the DPP presented no evidence at the supreme court, conceding the case. Which may have resulted in no clear precedent being set, as the case was won by default rather than reasoned interpretation of the law. And so now it is common currency that you can get prosecuted for being rude online. If you get a good lawyer you can probably resist it, but a huge number of guilty pleas and judgments because people don't realise that if they get a good lawyer they can fight it.

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