On 1 November 2022, the second reading of the Public Order Bill is scheduled to take place in the House of Lords.

The bill would introduce several measures that aim to address serious disruption caused by certain protestors. This includes several new criminal offences such as:

  • ‘locking on’ (where a person attaches themselves to land, an object or to another person and causes serious disruption)
  • ‘tunnelling’ (where a person either creates, or occupies, a tunnel that causes serious disruption)
  • obstructing major transport works and interfering with key national infrastructure
  • interfering with the access to, or provision of, abortion services

The bill would also introduce ‘suspicion-led’ and ‘suspicion-less’ stop and search powers for the police, as well as powers to enable the secretary of state to bring civil proceedings (including applying for injunctions) against individuals who carry out protest-related activity. A new preventative court order—the serious disruption prevention order (SDPO)—would also be introduced. A person who receives an SDPO could be subjected to several requirements, including electronic tagging.

Most of the bill’s provisions were originally introduced as amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill during the Lords report stage. However, the House of Lords rejected these amendments in January 2022 and they did not form part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which received royal assent on 28 April 2022. The Public Order Bill would reintroduce these measures. Amendments were made to the bill during the committee and report stages in the House of Commons. This included government new clauses that would introduce several offences on tunnelling, as well as an opposition new clause that would introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics. The bill’s provisions would extend to England and Wales only.

The bill has proven controversial, with many parliamentarians and external stakeholders arguing that it could threaten the right to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly. However, following widespread publicity about evolving tactics used by some protestors, the government has said that it remains committed to plugging what it argues are gaps in existing legislation and protecting the public from serious disruption caused by certain protestors.

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