The Welsh Government’s chief legal adviser has warned the Senedd the UK Government’s Public Order Act puts historic freedoms around peaceful protest at risk.
In a statement, Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, said new powers were authoritarian, draconian and risked undermining trust in policing.
The Public Order Act gives police extra powers to prevent protests deemed to be violent or excessively disruptive. This includes new offences related to ‘locking on’, extending the use of stop and search powers, and introducing new protest banning orders which can prevent people from attending protests.
It became law in the days leading up to the King’s Coronation and the Metropolitan Police has admitted it was wrong to arrest six demonstrators despite having no proof they were planning to use ‘lock on’ devices.
The Act has received criticism from organisations including Amnesty International, Liberty and Big Brother Watch. The UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner have also expressed concern that the Act would threaten the fundamental right to engage in peaceful protest.
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 violent 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 regressive provisions 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.”
Policing is a reserved matter and the police are operationally independent of Welsh Government, however, Mick Antoniw confirmed the Welsh Government will continue to work with police forces to monitor the impact of the Public Order Act in Wales.