Public Enemy: why collective POA against the Public Order Act is needed

It’s been almost a month since the government’s haphazard Public Order Act was coincidentally forced through in time for The King’s coronation. 

And quite frankly, the whole thing stinks as much now as it did when it was first mooted at the start of the year. 

With these new measures, courts can now sentence protesters who block roads or railways for up to 12-months, with a 6-month sentence for those who lock themselves onto objects or buildings. 

Outraged? You should be. The new laws set a dangerous precedent. Even if they don’t directly impact you now – it’s only a matter of time before the floodgates open further. 

It should go without saying as to why we need a Plan of Action against the Public Order Act

But if it’s not obvious enough, here are a few reasons as to why we need to sit up and take note: 

The freedom to protest peacefully is a basic human right. Think of women’s right to vote and how it was born out of the relentless activism from the Suffragettes. If it wasn’t for them taking over monuments or chaining themselves buildings – who knows what state our country would be in now? 

Not to mention the fact that the new laws are vague as fuck. What does “serious disruption” even mean? 

Let’s be honest, the wispy nature of these new laws only means that they’ll continue to be applied inconsistently. Just ask the coronation protesters that were arrested and held for 16 hours only to be subsequently released without charge. 

The law itself is confusing, so it comes as no surprise that the police are confused about how to enforce them. Which begs the question, do we even really want to be giving more power to an organisation which is institutionally failing? I would suggest not personally.

Despite what many of those on political right will tell you, the law will have a detrimental effect on us all, not just those on the left.

According to criminal justice lawyer Tyronne Steele, the indistinct nature of the Public Order Act means that prosecutors can even penalise those with loose connections to protestors. Whichever way you dress this up, it sounds more and more like one big violation of basic freedom of thought, let alone speech. 

In case I’ve not been clear enough so far – I absolutely, wholeheartedly hate it. 

Putting the glaring moral issues to one side for a moment, the law itself has been described as “deeply troubling” by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights which raises its own set of alarm bells. 

Some have likened the legislation to the various anti terror laws during the early-mid 00s which – by all intents and purposes – is an accurate comparison. 

This feels slightly different though. The powers that be don’t even have the thinly veiled excuse of fighting terror with these harsh laws. 

Don’t be fooled by the Labour Party’s lack of opposition on this either. 

Sir Keir Starmer and co. might be gathering splinters from sitting on the fence, but there should be no grey area on this whatsoever. It totally supersedes party politics as well. 

By and large, we’re pretty good in the UK at pointing out repressive laws on foreign soil. We’ve been vocal in calling out the Russian regime, not to mention the furore around LGBT+ rights during the World Cup last November. All rightly so, too. 

This should be no different. 

Have the recent Just Stop Oil protests been inconvenient at times? Of course. 

Have they even gone a step too far at times with their tactics? Probably. 

But politics and ultimately, society wouldn’t have progressed anywhere near as much without campaigners and activists that cause disruption. So it’s a price I’m willing to pay. 

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