Leading article: Disorderly conduct

Share

The Lord Chancellor had a torrid time yesterday attempting to defend the Government's record on free speech. Like the Prime Minister, Lord Falconer seems to believe that merely saying something makes it so. "We are a country that couldn't be freer," he informed the Today programme. Maya Evans, who has a criminal record for reading out a list of names near the gates of Downing Street, would be unlikely to agree.

Lord Falconer put up such an inept defence of the new law under which Ms Evans was arrested that one wondered if he was secretly attempting to undermine it. He declared that "there isn't a country in the world that does not take particular measures to protect its parliament" and asserted that the restrictions were essential to "avoid disorder" around the institutions of government. But when asked how it was that Britain had managed perfectly well without such a law for hundreds of years, the Lord Chancellor had no reply.

It is increasingly clear that Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which makes protests within 1km of Parliament Square illegal unless authorised by the police, is a terrible piece of legislation. It was designed to evict one long-standing protester from Parliament Square. It failed in this because the courts ruled it could not be applied retrospectively. But it has, whether the Government intended it or not, added significantly to the powers of the police.

The police now apparently have the right to harass any member of the public within the vicinity of Downing Street or the Houses of Parliament deemed to be a causing a nuisance. It is up to them to define what constitutes a "protest". They are clearly not averse to using intimidating tactics in the course of their duties, as the deployment of 14 officers in two minibuses to arrest Ms Evans demonstrates. All of this diminishes the status of the public areas of Westminster as democratic spaces.

Defenders of this legislation claim that all Ms Evans had to do was inform the police that she would be demonstrating. But the idea of having to apply for a licence to protest is anathema to our liberal traditions. It is true that the police are required to approve licence applications unless public safety or national security is compromised. But that leaves dangerously vague grounds for rejection. The police should be forced to apply to the courts to ban a demonstration.

Mr Blair and Lord Falconer can proclaim their deep respect for Britain's traditions of free speech all they like. But the fact re-mains that an Act pushed through by their Government has had the effect of reducing it. In this instance, actions have spoken louder than words.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices