UK Home Office Floats Bill That Would Make It Illegal To Be Too Loud During A Protest

from the quiet,-you dept

The British government is looking to literally silence dissent. Protests are a fact of life. There hasn't been a government yet that's been able to avoid them. But governments still do all they can to prevent them from reaching critical mass. In Hong Kong, the Chinese government has turned protesting into a national security crime with life sentences. In the United States, legislators are still trying to find ways to shut people up without violating their long-protected right to be verbally and demonstratively angry at their government.

Over in the UK, the government wants people to shut up. So, the Home Office has crafted a bill that would do exactly that: criminalize the "noise" protesters make. The bill would amend the 1986's Public Order Act to make it a crime to do the one thing demonstrations and protests are supposed to do: draw the public's attention. Here's Ian Dunt, writing for Politics.co.uk.

On Tuesday, the Home Office published the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. It covers a wide range of areas, from sentencing to digital information. But it has a specific section on the policing of protests. And the function of this section is simple: It aims to silence them.

This isn't a metaphorical silencing. It's a literal silencing. The 1986 law forbids protests that threaten serious damage or disruption. These amendments add "noise" to the list of aspects that allow the government to intervene or shut down demonstrations.

If the noise of the protest “may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” – for instance by distracting employees in a nearby office, then the police can impose restrictions. It goes without saying that this applies to almost any protest at all around parliament, the whole purpose of which is to get the attention of politicians. It can therefore cause “serious disruption” of an organisation.

It also applies to passers-by. If the noise of the protest could have “a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity of the procession”, the police can impose restrictions. The standard for this threshold is very low indeed: If the police believe that just one person nearby could be caused “serious unease, alarm or distress”, they can impose restrictions.

Unease and alarm are often byproducts of even peaceful protests. It's something commonly suffered by those targeted by the targets of demonstrations. Their unease is the point, because without it, it's pretty hard to compel change.

With this amendment, anyone could complain about the "noise" made by protesters and prompt a law enforcement response. Law enforcement can also use any imagined level of noise as impetus for shutting down protests under the presumption that stopping a protest before it gets "too" loud is just proactive police work.

It's SHUT UP: the law. The entire point of protests is to draw attention to and disrupt the status quo. This bill makes it illegal to hold an effective protest. And that appears to be the way the Home Office wants it. As Dunt points out, Home Secretary Priti Patel has been openly critical of many different protests, calling Extinction Rebellion protesters "eco-terrorists" and saying Black Lives Matter protests are not "the right way" to protest.

This is a gag order on dissent. Every government would love to have one. And it looks like the UK may be the next to criminalize complaints by the public it's apparently failing to serve properly.

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Filed Under: dissent, noise, protests, uk


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  • identicon
    bobob, 16 Mar 2021 @ 6:40am

    That has to be one of the most bizarre laws ever imagined. So, the only way to protest lawfully is to form a mime troupe?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 9:13am

      Re:

      "That has to be one of the most bizarre laws ever imagined. So, the only way to protest lawfully is to form a mime troupe?"

      Apparently.

      To be fair, however, if every protest is going to be an exercise in white-faced black-clothed mutes hammering at invisible walls and screaming soundlessly at the skies then I'd be surprised if the next law didn't mandate all protests to be soothingly loud.

      Few things beat the creep factor of a mime.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 7:29am

    Let's go back to the 60's

    a few nice quiet sit-ins should make the point. Maybe even with some nice folk guitar in the background?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      teka, 16 Mar 2021 @ 10:11am

      Re: Let's go back to the 60's

      one rabble-rouser (supplied by the police or counter-protestors if needed) and the most tame and silent sit-in become an illegal riot that you can bring the full truncheon of the law down on and not have to apologize for all the split skulls.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    steve, 16 Mar 2021 @ 7:49am

    This was added to stop that nutter who was standing around screaming "stop brexit" into a megaphone for several years.

    As you might imagine people in the area were a little annoyed.

    No-one is talking about one off demonstrations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 8:30am

      Re:

      Go and learn about the law of unintended consequences, and remember that politicians lie to get laws passed and pretend that they have been caught by that law when it does something they said it wouldn't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 1:13pm

      Re:

      Oh you sweet summer child...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 1:13pm

      Re:

      The number of movements which achieved their desired change in a "one off demonstration" can be counted on one hand.

      And you'd still have 5 fingers left over.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 8:08am

    so they want to ban the house of lords?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DocGerbil100 (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 8:19am

    Absolutely appalling. Is there even any such thing as a completely non-disruptive and virtually silent mass protest?

    While the text of the bill pays lip-service to the idea of a lawful protest, I can see no way in which this amendment can't effectively and easily be used to shut down almost any public protest of any kind. Moreover, it's so loosely worded, it would be at the whim of almost anyone in any position of authority, from the government right down to the most senior officer on duty, who need be no more than an ordinary beat constable.

    Whatever its supporters may claim, this is no mere revision or clarification of existing law, it's the government giving itself the optional right to a de facto ban on any and all public protests, in all but name -- and anyone found guilty under it would face anything up to the maximum sentence of either just under a year in prison or a £2,500 fine (a little over $3,473, at the time of writing).

    Something's badly wrong with Priti Patel, I think. She's extraordinarily right-wing, even by the standards of the Tory party -- and openly hostile to almost everybody, including (but not limited to) ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, ecology campaigners, lawyers and even women's rights protesters.

    If it weren't for her mixed-race background, I'd have no hesitation in labelling her a thinly-veiled white supremacist, on par with any of Donald Trump's worst employees.

    She's in the Conservative safe seat of Witham, so she's not likely to be voted out anytime soon. That's quite a shame, since -- with the exception of our useless buffoon of a Prime Minister -- I can think of no-one in government more thoroughly deserving of unemployment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 8:46am

      Re:

      She is spectacularly ghastly, even for a tory, but there isn't a decent human being left in the party, Boris purged anyone with a functioning conscience before the last election, now here we are.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 9:21am

        Re: Re:

        Without getting partisan - Patel is just the latest in a long line of sociopaths that we have endured in the Home Office. It appears to be a job requirement!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          A parent: Lee Knott, 16 Mar 2021 @ 11:21am

          Re: Re: Re: "long line of sociopaths"

          You somehow manage to not notice that you're ruled by a line of inbred German robber-baron sociopaths extending back hundreds of years? There's your key problem.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Bloof (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 1:12pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: "long line of sociopaths"

            You know the actual royals have very little real power these days and are more of a theme park attraction now, right?

            People born into wealth and privelege are pushing the country off a cliff, but the majority of the guilty parties are no more royal that the children of politicians and million/billionaires poisoning american politics, heck, in the case of Rupert Murdoch and his crotchspawn they're one and the same

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2021 @ 5:35am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: "long line of sociopaths"

            As opposed to the latest in the line of German robber-baron sociopath family Drumpf (maybe not inbred but borderline incestuous) that has taken over right wing politics in the US and tries to rule more like a king than the British monarchy?

            The current monarchy are of German descent (going back to George 1 in 1714) but there is not 1 line going back as many wars have changed the ruling family. We have also had Dutch and French monarchs along with all sorts of marriages to seal alliances.

            Since the late 1600's, the monarch has been a figurehead and parliament holds the real power. MPs still ceremonially slam the door in the face of Black Rod (really a title!) every year during the state opening of parliament to indicate their independence from the monarch.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:58pm

      Re:

      Is there even any such thing as a completely non-disruptive and virtually silent mass protest?

      While this legislation is indeed Draconian and vile, silent protests do exist.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 1:06pm

        Re: Re:

        While this legislation is indeed Draconian

        Is it, though? Lots of countries that are not police states have laws against excessive noise. Is the problem here just that the law is too subjective or vague?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 9:18am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Is it, though? Lots of countries that are not police states have laws against excessive noise."

          Yeah, the problem is that just about every protest or demonstration through human history which resulted in actual change only did so because there were enough people engaging in civil disobedience for the government to sit up and take notice, for once. If the suffragettes hadn't broken the law so much, women still wouldn't be able to vote. If southern slaves hadn't been running away so much from their masters the civil war and the emancipation would not have happened.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        DocGerbil100 (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 1:37pm

        Re: Re:

        A silent march in New York, 1917, demanding a ban on lynchings. I didn't know about that one.

        All the same, that one protest would undoubtedly still fall afoul of the 'no disruptions' clause: 10,000 people marching down the road can hardly avoid causing some kind of nuisance. Also, given that it was 104 years ago and didn't work even then, it's probably not likely to be the most helpful of models for future demonstrations.

        Still, it's interesting, so thank you for the link. :)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 8:55am

    When conservatives moan about cancel culture, this is what it actually looks like. The goal is to end left wing protests by any means necessary and they will keep pushing this, tweaking until they can make it law. These are the same people who appointed someone to head up the state broadcaster who said he was planning to 'make comedy more balanced', and low and behold, they've started cancelling left wing shows.

    Insincere squealing about free speech and fairness are nothing but tools for getting centrists onside. Give them power to do as they please and they will start doing everything they can with to weaponise the law in order to silence their foes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      A parent: Lee Knott, 16 Mar 2021 @ 11:27am

      Does this apply to "left wing"? Aren't they TOO authoritarian?

      Insincere squealing about free speech and fairness are nothing but tools for getting centrists onside. Give them power to do as they please and they will start doing everything they can with to weaponise the law in order to silence their foes.

      As usual, you attack "conservatives" and no doubt "sincerely assert / defend the left: "goal is to end left wing protests by any means necessary".

      It's too late for you to grasp that "both" are authoritarian and against your interests. You've lied too often to even admit that "cancel culture" has obvious purpose, that FOR NOW it's against certain people, and you cannot see that They will soon turn on you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:12pm

        Excuse me, I’m a bit lost — do you have a map that could tell me where I can find Your Fucking Point?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 9:32am

          Re:

          "...do you have a map that could tell me where I can find Your Fucking Point?"

          It seems to be the same one he's always trying to make; That the "left" is evil, the "right" is insufficient, that we should all follow Dear Leader who knows best and stop listening to sources of rational and proportionate provenance and verifiable accuracy because those are all owned by the Masnick/Google/CIA/The Lizard People.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bloof (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:43pm

        Re: Does this apply to "left wing"? Aren't they TOO au

        Uh huh. Experience has taught me anyone who claims 'Both sides are your enemy' tends to have far more of an issue with imagined oppression by the left than they are with the actual weaponising of the systems of government by the right that we have seen over the past decades. It's almost as if they're far right people LARPing as centrists or Bernie bros in the hope of alienating people on the left.

        'Oh sure, the right wing are doing all sorts of authoritarian s**t in every country they take power in, passing law after law designed to silence and disenfranchise their opponents, but leftists MAY be bad if they suddenly abandon everything they believe in and turn around and do everything that's been done to them for most of the twentieth century! They could be bad so they're both the same guys!'

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 5:11pm

          Re: Re: Does this apply to "left wing"? Aren't they TO

          The simple fact is that there are undesirable elements in both current US parties. There always have been, and all too often they outnumber the desirable elements. Those undesirables - on both sides - always include some who go beyond accepted limits in their attempts to silence their opponents and/or critics. However, what the poster you're replying to seem to miss is that currently, most - by a large margin - find their home in the Republican party.

          Amongst the rank and file, I suspect there are actually more Democrats who are trying to silence disent by foul means, but probably only because the Republican laity is, to a frightening degree, batshit crazy (QAnon, anyone?).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 6:23pm

            Re: Re: Re: Does this apply to "left wing"? Aren't the

            Amongst the rank and file, I suspect there are actually more Democrats who are trying to silence disent by foul means, but probably only because the Republican laity is, to a frightening degree, batshit crazy (QAnon, anyone?).

            That might well be driven self preservation, as anti mask,anti social distancing and anti vaccination are almost exclusively republican ideals. There are enough republican refusing vaccination to prevent herd immunity being achieved.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Bloof (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 2:32am

            Re: Re: Re: Does this apply to "left wing"? Aren't the

            The republican party machinery is designed to crush dissent, they purged anyone willing to work with democrats during the Tea Party days, and now they censure and punish anyone unwilling to bend the knee and declare undying loyalty to a former president and a willingness to ignore reality in order to appease his whims. They continually pass laws designed to silence the left, strip away the right and free speech of minorities and punish those who challenge them in any way and it us all done with the wholehearted support of the rank and file who cheer on voting the libs and continually primary the closest republicans to the center... All their actual deeds are exactly the same as unspecified oppression by democrats that probably maybe exists somewhere.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 18 Mar 2021 @ 2:14am

            Re: Re: Re: Does this apply to "left wing"? Aren't the

            "Amongst the rank and file, I suspect there are actually more Democrats who are trying to silence disent by foul means..."

            Individually, sure. The democratic party is full of grifters coming in under the all-covering umbrella consisting of every cause or principle abandoned by the right wing for decades.

            It still isn't comparable. When someone like Cuomo fucks up enough for people to notice his peers and colleagues condemn him and urge him to step down.
            When a republican does the same that party instead closes ranks, condemns the people, and implies the Kenyan Muslim helming the satanist child-trafficking conspiracy has brainwashed the unwashed masses.

            As far as "both sides" is concerned the democrats are politics as usual. The republicans have been, for a while now, hysterical screaming, denial of factual reality and conspiracy theories.

            There is no comparison between these two "sides", because one of those sides acts in an environment of adult politics and the other side is a horde of incontinent tantrum-throwing toddlers hurling their well-filled diapers at bypassers from the sandbox they're playing in.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Peter, 16 Mar 2021 @ 9:34am

    Alternative Name for this Law

    This should be called the "You Are Annoying Me So You Are Under Arrest" Law.

    It will go straight into the back pocket of any police officer together with the "Harassment Alarm or Distress" Law to use whenever they are not actually breaking the law but the copper doesn't like it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 1:08pm

    'We're politicians and thus never wrong, so you're the problem.'

    You know what's really good at disrupting protests and shutting them down so people don't have to deal with a bunch of pissed off people and loud noises?

    Not doing the things that are causing people to get angry enough to protest against.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 18 Mar 2021 @ 2:17am

      Re: 'We're politicians and thus never wrong, so you're the probl

      "Not doing the things that are causing people to get angry enough to protest against."

      Oh, come now, are you going to take all the fun out of life for these hard-working officers? Given how much of US law enforcement has dual membership in white supremacy groups, shooting brown people in the back is simply much needed stress relief for a lot of them.

      I suggest you clamp down on suggestions like that. They don't contribute to the work environment of those poor officers and may land you in hot water with the police unions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 6:12pm

    There been talk that the bill could also applie to online protest as well as physical world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    The Central Scrutinizer (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 9:11pm

    Cops beating and assaulting women at a peaceful vigil for a woman who was allegedly murdered BY A COP is fine though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2021 @ 3:51am

    shh.......

    SHH...... don't let the US know! it might start getting new ideas!
    one of the bad ones is if you insult a cop you go to jail!
    so... don't let the US think that this kind of law is ok.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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