The UK government opposed the right to protest and this circumstance sparked controversy due to the violation of acquired rights. It's just that strict new laws restrict the right to protest. The Conservative government asserts that the laws prevent extremist activists from harming the economy and disrupting daily life.
Critics claim that civil rights are being eroded without adequate scrutiny by lawmakers or protection by courts. They point out that the widespread arrests of peaceful protesters, coupled with the labeling of environmental activists as extremists by government officials, represent a worrying shift for liberal democracy.
“Legitimate protest is part of what makes a country a safe and civilized place to live,” said Jonathan Porritt, an environmental scientist and former director of Friends of the Earth, who joined a vigil outside London's Central Criminal Court to protest the treatment of demonstrators. .
Britain is one of the world's oldest democracies, home to the Magna Carta, a centuries-old parliament and an independent judiciary. This democratic system is supported by an “unwritten constitution”: a set of laws, rules, agreements and judicial rulings accumulated over hundreds of years.
The demonstrators, from groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain, say civil disobedience is justified because of the climate emergency that threatens humanity's future. But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called them “selfish” and “ideological fanatics,” and the British government responded to some of the unrest with laws restricting the right to peaceful protest.
Legal changes introduced in 2022 created a statutory offense of “disturbing public order”, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and gave police more powers to restrict protests deemed disruptive. It was followed by the Public Order Act 2023, which expanded the definition of “serious nuisance,” allowing police to search protesters for things like padlocks and glue. It imposes prison sentences of up to 12 months on protesters who block “major infrastructure,” defined broadly to include roads and bridges.
The government said it was working to “protect the right of the law-abiding majority to go about their daily lives.” But the parliamentary cross-party human rights committee warned that the changes would have a “chilling impact on the right to protest”.
Days after the new law came into effect in May, six anti-monarchy activists were arrested before the coronation of King Charles III, even before they raised a banner reading “Not Mine”; All of them were later released without charges.
In recent months, the pace of protests and the volume of arrests have increased, partly due to a legal change criminalizing slow driving, a tactic protesters have adopted to disrupt traffic by traveling at low speeds on highways. Police arrested hundreds of Just Stop Oil activists moments after the walk began. Some demonstrators were sentenced to prison terms that were described as unjustifiably punitive.
Structural engineer Morgan Truland was one of two Just Stop Oil activists who scaled the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge over the River Thames near London in October 2022, forcing police to close the road for 40 hours. He was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of disturbing public order.
Judge Shane Colleary told him the reasons: “It was because of the chaos you caused and to deter others from trying to imitate you.” He was released on December 13, after spending 14 months in detention.
The Conservative government rejected the criticism in Sunak's words: “Those who break the law should feel its full force.” More troubling, some legal experts say, is the “justice lottery” that arrested protesters face. (unavailable)
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