The UK government announced Thursday the introduction of new police powers to stop slow-walking protests, set to take effect on May 3, 2023. The Home Office said that the new measures “will ensure hardworking everyday people will no longer be collateral damage to disruptive protests,” but the measures would restrict the tactics notable activist organizations can use whilst protesting.
The legislation would grant new power to officers to intervene in protesters who attempt to block public highways or obstruct roads with slow marches. However, the bill will need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament.
Some of those protest groups who have used the tactic of slow walking are Just Stop Oil (who have vowed to continue action), Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion. The tactic is used to disrupt day-to-day life and to make it difficult for police officers to know when to step in. The government has said this new legislation, if it receives Royal Assent, will give officers more clarity as to how officers can halt such action.
The legislation entails that protest action that may cause “serious disruption to the life of the community” will be subject to conditions. This will mean if protest action substantially prevents the public from living as they normally would, then it may be stopped.
Speaking on the action, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said in a statement:
The measures in the Public Order Bill will improve the police’s ability to manage such protests and take a proactive approach to prevent such disruption happening in the first place. This in turn will ensure that police can better balance the rights of protesters against the rights of others to go about their daily business and to focus their resources on keeping the public safe.
Other powers the Public Order Bill will introduce include:
Gluing, or tying yourself to objects, known as ‘locking on’;
Disruption to transport links and infrastructural works, such as with HS2; and
Any action which could be said to ‘interfere with key national infrastructure’;
They signal an extension of stop and search powers for police to search for and seize objects (such as lock-on devices) that may be used in the commission of a protest-related offence under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. In 2022, UK privacy campaigner Big Brother Watch found that police were disproportionately using stop and search powers to target protesters.
The government first looked into the new measures in January 2023, and their announcement follows the passage of the Public Order Bill on April 26.