14/03/2021 - Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Letter sent to Mims Davies, Member of Parliament for Mid Sussex, from Sue Jex, West Sussex County council Labour Candidate for Burgess Hill East
Dear Ms Davies,
I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the authoritarian direction taken by this government. As I understand things, our democracy has checks and balances to keep it working well and to protect us against an overbearing government.
- Advice to ministers by an impartial and professional civil service
- Scrutiny of proposed legislation by the House of Commons and House of Lords
- Judicial review of government decisions if necessary and to make sure that the government itself is abiding by the law of the land
- A free press
- The right to peaceful protest
These checks and balances are being dismantled by this government:
- Introducing voter ID disenfranchises the poorest who can’t afford driving licences or passports
- Redrawing boundaries in favour of Conservative constituencies making it harder for opposition parties to gain power
- We’ve seen the churn in senior Civil Service leaders, forced out by the government reducing experience at the most senior levels and producing a culture of fear of speaking out within the service
- And the Prime Minister’s undermining of the Civil Service by not holding ministers to account for bullying and incompetence
- The illegal prorogation of Parliament last October was a direct attempt to avoid the Brexit legislation being scrutinised
- Bills are rushed through making proper scrutiny impossible – The Withdrawal Agreement and Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being examples
- The widespread inclusion of Henry VIII powers into legislation allowing ministers to avoid parliamentary scrutiny through enacting Statutory Instruments
- And examples like the Fisheries Minister choosing to attend pantomime preparations rather than scrutinise proposed legislation
- The government is planning to restrict our ability to hold them to account through the courts by restricting access to judicial review
- It has side-lined the Electoral Commission after its findings of irregularities in the Vote Leave campaign and is even considering abolishing it
- Almost 75% of our press is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere or the Barclay family. They are free market fundamentalists and all of their newspapers present a consistently right-wing view .
Our right to peaceful protest
- This is being undermined in this week’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is being rushed through the House of Commons within a week
- Clauses in the Bill add noise to the reasons that protests can be banned. It gives the police discretion to ban protests because it might disturb businesses or people nearby and has the effect of silencing protest. We saw last night the Met Police’s grotesque handling of a vigil in memory of a woman violated (allegedly) by a male Met Police officer by male Met Police officers violently arresting women and trampling over flowers left in memory of the victim. That gives me no confidence at all that the police can be trusted. The Met Police also illegally invoked Section 14 of the Public Order Act in October 2019
- It widens the definition of protest to include one-person protests
- It reduces the burden of proof by the state to show that demonstrators are knowingly non-compliant by introducing a clause that says that they “ought to know” even if they haven’t seen the police tweet or heard the loudspeaker
- However, a really alarming clause gives the Secretary of State the ability to change the meaning of the law at any time without any real parliamentary scrutiny, again through the use of Statutory Instruments. The current law (Public Order Act 1986) hinges on the phrase “serious disruption” to influence police powers over demonstrators. The new Act allows the Secretary of State to “make provision about the meaning” of the phrase. This is deeply worrying
And this is happening at a time when the government itself is prepared to break international law, to renege on international agreements, to fail to publish contracts within the legal timeframe and then to lie about having done so, and to ignore the recommendations of Sir Alex Allan in the case of Priti Patel’s bullying of Sir Philip Rutnam resulting in a settlement of £304,000 plus legal fees to be picked up by the taxpayer.
I am asking you to stand up for our protections and safeguard our democracy by voting against any measure that weakens those safeguards. I am asking you to vote against the clauses covering protest in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, or at least to separate out those clauses for further scrutiny and debate. It is not right that such important legislation be rushed through the House of Commons so quickly.