Unless the Government begins to hold discussions with the various groups involved in Extinction Rebellion, the apparent action of Priti Patel to agree to allow section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 being used to prevent the protests to take place anywhere in London raises all sorts of concerns. If the people involved in the campaign were limited to a few hundred people in one small area , it might be seen that such an action is heavy handed but it was reasonable. However there are many thousands people who are supportive of elements of Extinction Rebellion across the Western World. Two friends of mine were in discussion about the theme on social media a few days ago and one was making a serious attempt to respond to the need to change their own lifestyle to help reduce the impact on the environment. Both have been supportive of XR at a more local level than going up to London. However if the decision for the application of section 14 as a blanket policy across London is not followed up by a decision to begin to hold discussions and indeed for changes to be made it will raise all sorts of challenges. Section 14 is intended to divert peaceful protests that could cause short term problems, not to end them.
The Queens Speech yesterday included the phrase “strengthening public confidence in the criminal justice system” and whilst this could be interpreted two ways depending on which side of the XR campaign people are, the fact is that the campaign is not a small group of people. In any event the speech also included “For the first time ever, environmental principles will be enshrined into law.” and whilst this may not go far, it is a clear commitment to address such matters so for the Government to ignore the Extinction Rebellion campaigners at this stage would be deeply concerning.
Section 14 is posted below and it would appear it is being treated a great deal further than the text suggests it was intended for. Such an approach clearly needs some additional work if it is to be respected by people who are peaceful in their protest, but who are wanting to get some constructive responses from their Government! The text is:
“If the senior police officer, having regard to the time or place at which and the circumstances in which any public assembly is being held or is intended to be held, reasonably believes that—
(a)it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, or
(b)the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do,
he may give directions imposing on the persons organising or taking part in the assembly such conditions as to the place at which the assembly may be (or continue to be) held, its maximum duration, or the maximum number of persons who may constitute it, as appear to him necessary to prevent such disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation.”