I was very concerned to hear about the arrest of the six members of Republic on Coronation Day, and especially because they had been in contact with the police previously to share their plans for the day. As you may be aware, the police have now apologised to the six and dropped any charges – not that there were any charges that could have been laid because they did nothing wrong! The point I raised with the Minister in the House this week was to ask what confidence the organisers of future peaceful protests can have that anything they’ve agreed with the police in advance will be honoured on the day.
On the legislation, more generally, as you know, we voted against it, but there is an issue about highly disruptive lock-on protests – like for example, stopping the M25 for several hours – or preventing people from getting to hospital appointments or picking their children up from school, which does involve balancing the right of protest against the right of people to go about their lawful business. As ever, this is a fine balance and part of the problem is not always the legislation, but the way in which the police choose to interpret it in particular circumstances. For example, the arrest of a journalist during the M25 protests and the arrest of another journalist on Coronation Day is also a matter of deep concern, and it is by raising these cases, and calling out particular police interpretation that we can best safeguard our liberties.
As for what to do about the legislation we inherit, if we win the next election, then I think we can best address that at the time when we understand better whether it is actually being used for the purpose for which it was intended.
Hilary Benn MP