On Justice and Our Right to Protest

I wrote to my MP about the Met’s shameful actions on Clapham Common yesterday, proposed legislation that will curtail the right to protest, and Labour’s response.

Dear Paul Blomfield

I welcome the announcement by the Shadow Justice Secretary that Labour will vote against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. It will pass anyway, of course, unless enough Conservative back-benchers can be persuaded of its faults.

I hope Parliament can find ways to mitigate the most egregious parts of the Bill by amending it during its passage. In particular, Parliament must not grant to the Home Secretary the power to change the meaning of the term “serious disruption” through secondary legislation. This would be undemocratic and a grave threat to the rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

I am disappointed that Labour are today making populist demands for tougher sentences for those convicted of violence. The Labour leader has vast experience of the criminal justice system. He knows that tough sentencing guidelines don’t mean anything if the justice system is incapable of handing them down.

Ten years of Tory cuts and under-funding have eviscerated the UK justice system, with obvious, devastating effects on outcomes for victims of crime. Sir Kier is in a uniquely strong position in Parliament to demand proper funding of refuges, the CPS, the Courts Service, the Probation Service, victim support, legal aid and all the other necessary components of a functioning justice system. Without large funding increases justice will continue to be an ideal rather than a reality in this country.

If Parliament had scrutinised public health regulations effectively since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis then the appalling scenes created by the Metropolitan Police on Clapham Common last night could have been avoided. Parliament should oblige police forces to facilitate covid-safe protests. It should have done this before last summer’s protests by the movement for black lives – but better late than never.

Lastly, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner no longer commands the confidence of the public she serves, and this is not the first time she has disgraced herself in public office. Please call upon her to resign immediately.