Peter Bleksley on how to deal with Just Stop Oil protesters
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Police chiefs will be given additional guidance on what “serious disruption” is amid fears intervening too early could expose them to legal challenges. But the Prime Minister confirmed officers will not have to wait for “disruption to begin” and they will not have to treat coordinated protests as “standalone incidents”.
This means officers will now be able to clear protesters from the road immediately, rather than being hamstrung by having to wait for the public to face “serious disruption”.
The public has been left furious by officers allowing protesters to sit in the road or walking at a crawling pace to hold traffic up.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but this is not absolute. A balance must be struck between the rights of individuals and the rights of the hard-working majority to go about their day-to-day business.
“We cannot have protests conducted by a small minority disrupting the lives of the ordinary public. It’s not acceptable and we’re going to bring it to an end.
“The police asked us for more clarity to crack down on these guerrilla tactics, and we have listened.”
Just Stop Oil has vowed to escalate their action in 2023, and could even target the King’s Coronation.
The group told LBC that because of their ‘success’ in 2022 in ‘getting people talking about the climate crisis’ they plan more large scale disruption this year.
The group, which saw over 2,000 arrests in 2022, including 138 protesters ending up in prison, has said that their membership has significantly grown since their large-scale disruptions last year – with more active members.
Some fuel protesters have this year changed tactics to include slowing traffic to a crawling pace by carrying out walking protests through cities including London.
Just Stop Oil and anti-fuel tax protesters have used the strategy after the government introduced laws to stop other forms of “pop-up” demonstrations.
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Mark Rowley said: “It is clearly understood that everybody has the right to protest.
“Increasingly however police are getting drawn into complex legal arguments about the balance between that right to protest and the rights of others to go about their daily lives free from serious disruption.
“The lack of clarity in the legislation and the increasing complexity of the case law is making this more difficult and more contested.
“It is for Parliament to decide the law, and along with other police chiefs, I made the case for a clearer legal framework in relation to protest, obstruction and public nuisance laws.
“We have not sought any new powers to curtail or constrain protest, but have asked for legal clarity about where the balance of rights should be struck.
“I welcome the government’s proposal to introduce a legal definition of “serious disruption” and “reasonable excuse”.
“In practical terms, Parliament providing such clarity will create a clearer line for the police to enforce when protests impact upon others who simply wish to go about their lawful business.”
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