Suella Braverman Is Being Sued Over ‘Anti-protest Law’
By Katy Watts -lawyer at human rights campaign group Liberty: The home secretary, Suella Braverman confirmed just how little this government cares about the UK’s long-established democratic systems when in June she overrode Parliament to sneak in even more anti-protest powers that had already been voted down months earlier.
What she did is unlawful, and the High Court has just given us permission to take her to court.
A year ago, people were asked how much they trust the UK government – and the results were stark. Just one in three said they had faith in those in power and only one in five trusted political parties.
In the 12 months since then, the government has continued to dismantle our rights and make it harder for all of us to hold it to account. The cruel and inhumane Illegal Migration Act is making it harder for people to seek refuge, voter ID has created barriers to voting, and anti-strike legislation and a raft of new anti-protest laws are stopping people from standing up for their rights. It is getting harder and harder for ordinary people to keep this government – and future governments – in check.
On 14 June, secondary legislation – a way to bring a new law in without having to create a whole new bill – was signed, changing the threshold in the Public Order Act for police intervention at a protest. Whereas before police could only get involved if protests caused ‘serious disruption’ to the community, now they can step in when they deem there to be ‘more than minor disruption’. The change gives the police almost unlimited powers to shut down protests due to the vagueness of the new language.
It’s an assault on our rights.
The new powers overrule the will of Parliament, who voted against this exact change to the Public Order Act when it was put in front of them in April. This in itself is unlawful for being an unjustified interference with the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty, and in a report published on 9 May, a House of Lords committee said it was “not aware of any examples of this approach being taken in the past…”.
The move was also an alarming overreach of the home secretary’s power. In fact, we don’t think she had the power to introduce the new measures at all.
The UK’s democracy is built on the delicate yet vital constitutional principle of the separation of powers – which means the government and Parliament are intertwined but distinct. The government rules, but it’s Parliament that makes law. While Parliament can grant the government power to make law using tools like secondary legislation, this is normally used for technical details – not to overrule decisions Parliament has already made.
In this instance, Parliament didn’t give Braverman the power to change the law in the way she did – and wouldn’t have given her permission to circumvent its will. In this way, her actions violate the separation of powers and undermine our democracy in the process.
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What’s more, the new legislation wasn’t consulted on fairly, as is required by law. The government only invited in parties it knew would agree with the proposals, like the police, but didn’t ask groups who might have raised concerns.
All this has come at an already fragile time for the UK’s democracy. A report in August highlighted how it’s getting harder for charities and civil society groups to hold the government to account, while earlier this year the UK was downgraded in a global index of freedoms for the government’s hostile approach to protest.
When the Public Order Act passed into law in April, the UN condemned it as “incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations regarding people’s rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association”. By changing the threshold for police intervention, the home secretary has made the act even more damaging still.
But Braverman’s actions haven’t happened in a vacuum. This government has made a habit of rolling out measures which make it harder for everyone to hold it to account – whether that’s in Parliament, in court or on the streets.
That’s why our legal action against the home secretary is so important. It’s time to take a stand and stop this government ripping up the rule book in the interest of its own agenda.