London Moves to Preemptively Quell Protests Before Unrest Breaks Out

British Government Introduces Measures Aimed at Restriction of Protest Rights

On January 16, 2023, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced an amendment to the Public Order law that looks to expand its legal definition of “serious disturbance”. This measure was proposed with the aim of giving the security forces wider leeway to act against tactics employed by activist groups, such as blocking of roads or slowing down of traffic.

Sunak took to his statement to express the necessity of a balance between individual rights and the rights of the working majority to live a normal life. He further commented that “there can be no small minority protests that disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens” and promised to “end it”.

The aim of the amendment was notably to fight against new tactics employed by environmentalist groups like Just Stop Oil, which include demonstrations that slowdown traffic of urban streets. Nonetheless, both the police and opposition leader, Sir Kier Starmer, expressed his opposition to the measure.

The head of Scotland Yard, Mark Rowley, highlighted that the police weren’t looking for new legislations, but for legal clarity. Meanwhile, Starmer criticized government’s propasal criticising the fact that the police “already have the power to act”. Human rights activist Martha Spurrier echoed this opinion, emphasizing the potential damaging effect of this amendment on citizens’ rights.

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