Shaking the right to demonstrate: dispute over Johnson’s police law

Status: 01/18/2022 03:41 a.m

The British government wants to change the right of assembly with a legal reform. It is just one of several measures that critics of the government have condemned as a frontal attack on democracy and the separation of powers. Resistance to it is growing.

Authoritarian, reactionary, repressive: The criticism in the House of Lords of possible restrictions on the freedom to demonstrate through the planned British police law could hardly have been more scathing. Members of the House of Lords inflicted one voter defeat after another on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government overnight.

By a large majority, the Lords rejected several paragraphs in the draft of the proposed new Police Act. For example, it provided for significant restrictions on protests if the police considered them to be a noise nuisance or block traffic routes.

“Human rights seriously questioned”

With the “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”, the Johnson government wants to put climate and anti-racism protests in their place, which have made headlines in recent years. The bill went through the last stage in the upper house during the night – and should then return to the lower house. The government is expected to largely reverse the Lords’ changes to the Commons. Usually the House of Lords gives way in this case.

Critics fear that the vague regulations and powers for the police could lead to the dissolution of any demo as illegal. If one can no longer express one’s disapproval of the government’s actions with noise on the street, “human rights are seriously called into question,” said Conservative Upper House member John Gummer during the debate in the evening.

The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, who also sits in the House of Lords, referred to Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, who were honored with statues erected in the square in front of the British Parliament: their protest, Baines said, would not have taken place under the circumstances be able.

The power of the judiciary is also to be reformed

But the planned police law is by far not the only instrument that critics believe the Johnson administration is trying to undermine the foundations of separation of powers and democracy. Among other things, the control of norms in the country is to be severely restricted according to the will of the Tories.

Justice Minister Dominic Raab wants to break the power of the judiciary to check government decisions for their legality with a judicial reform. His Judicial Review and Courts Bill reportedly allows the government to simply ignore unwelcome court decisions. Judicial scrutiny has been a thorn in the side of the Johnson administration since the Supreme Court declared Johnson’s parliamentary recess illegal in 2019.

Suffrage also under the magnifying glass

Another Raab project envisages taking Great Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights and thus avoiding the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. With the “Nationality and Borders Bill”, Home Secretary Priti Patel wants to make it almost impossible for asylum seekers who have entered the country illegally to obtain a right to stay in Great Britain.

A bill to reform the electoral law, which the government pushed through the lower house on Monday thanks to its large majority, also caused a lot of criticism. The “Elections Bill” provides for an obligation to present proof of identity for participation in the general election in order to prevent voter fraud. However, the opposition senses an attempt to influence voter turnout in favor of the Tories. In Great Britain there is no identification requirement and no identity card. As a result, less affluent voters who cannot afford to travel abroad are less likely to have a passport.

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