The Welsh Government has been warned by the Counsel General that the UK Government’s Public Order Act puts historic peaceful protest freedoms at risk.
Giving the police extra powers to prevent protests that are deemed to be violent or excessively disruptive, the Public Order Act extends the use of stop and search powers as well as introducing banning order to prevent people from attending protests. The Act came into law during the build up to the King’s Coronation, whilst the Metropolitan Police did admit that it was wrong to make six arrests during the celebration, relating to the use of ‘lock on devices.’
Whilst the Welsh Government admitted that policing is a reserved matter and that the police are operationally independent to themselves, it was stated that they would continue to work alongside them to monitor the impact of the Act in Wales.
Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, said:
“The Public Order Act puts the fundamental right of peaceful protest at risk. People have historic freedoms and rights to speak out against authority, to make their views heard and to argue for change.
“Police already had a range of powers to take action against violence or excessively disruptive protests. It would have been preferable to find ways to support the proportionate use of existing powers, but what we are seeing is the introduction of new and extreme powers that erode the right to peaceful protest.
“I am particularly concerned with the widening of powers on stop and search – Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities already experience disproportionate use of this police power.”
The Public Order Act has been criticised already by organisations such as Amnesty International, Liberty, and Big Brother Watch, with the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner also expressing concern about how it would impact the fundamental right to engage in peaceful protest.
Antoniw also touched on how further devolution for Wales and its police force would alter the impact of the Act on the people of Wales, saying:
“The regressive provision in the Public Order Act imposed on the people of Wales by the UK government underline why the devolution of policing and criminal justice is so urgent. Only when we have full oversight of the justice system in Wales will we be able to fully align its delivery with the needs and priorities of the people and communities of Wales.”