Religious leaders also denounce the “disproportionate impact” that the draft law will have on “already marginalised minorities” and call for its removal.
Dozens of UK faith leaders have signed a letter to the MPs, to express their “concerns about Parts 3 and 4 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”, which is still being debated.
Although the “most draconian provisions in the Bill”, have already been removed, it “currently introduces disproportionate sentences for peaceful protest and allows someone to be convicted for breaching a police condition placed on a protest”.
“The new restrictions on peaceful processions and assemblies present a grave threat to civil liberties in this country, and would allow the police to potentially criminalise a wide range of scenarios, either for being too ‘noisy’ or for causing ‘serious unease’”, warns the letter.
Furthermore, “there are also likely to be a number of severe consequences for faith and belief communities across the country”,it adds.
According to the signatories, the new law “would have a chilling effect on the practices of millions of those putting their faith into practice […] Events such as prayer vigils, public acts of worship, community events and protests could be restricted or banned with incredible ease”.
The letter also denounces the “disproportionate impact” that the draft law will have on “groups already marginalised by our society, such as Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller”. Faith leaders “deplore the Bill’s attack on those communities and their way of life”.
They explain that the law will “create a new trespass offence at a time where the Government has failed in its duty to provide sufficient sites and permitted stopping places. This further criminalises marginalised communities with profound levels of societal stigma and economic hardship”.
“All this is unacceptable in a democratic society and strikes at the heart of the rich diversity of belief and expression that has been championed and celebrated in the past. For this reason we call for the removal of Part 3 of the Bill entirely”, concludes the letter.
In addition to this letter, over 300 civil organisations have also signed another letter asking for the removal of the Parts 3 and 4 of the draft law, and encouraging citizens to write to their MPs to vote for this.
In March 2021, the British parliament held its first debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, without reaching a decision.
Afterwards, in November 2021 the government tabled a series of amendments to its own draft law, which added even more measures to restrict and criminalise protests.
However, this January, MPs rejected almost all of the government's measures, such as giving police powers to impose more noise-based restrictions on protests and the ability to place restrictions on one person protests, or giving them greater powers to restrict peaceful assemblies and to impose conditions on one-person protests, among others.
The draft law was again debated in the House of Commons this Monday February 28 without an agreement, so that it will enter what is known as “ping pong” between the houses. Amendments will go back and forth between the two chambers of Parliament, although usually the Lords will defer to the elected chamber if no compromise is reached.