All 2 Baroness D'Souza contributions to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022

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Tue 14th Sep 2021
Tue 22nd Mar 2022
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendments: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, this is a big and important Bill with much to commend it but, regrettably, also some ambiguous provisions that will undoubtedly infringe civil liberties. While there are welcome clauses on, for example, increased penalties for assaults on emergency workers, Part 3 of the Bill, which deals with police powers to prevent, limit and/or curtail public protest, gives cause for concern. I am aware that many Lords in this debate so far have addressed this, and I have to forewarn noble Lords that I will be doing so as well.

Freedom of expression and assembly is a crucial democratic right, and some might say the cornerstone of the democratic process. It enables citizens to express views, call decision-makers to account, participate in decisions affecting their lives and livelihoods and alerts the wider public to the potential dangers of statutory limitations. Public demonstrations are an expression of civic concerns and are addressed at legislators who not only represent the people but have the power to change legislation. The cessation of fracking is a much-cited recent example of demo power. Clearly, such freedom is not an unfettered right, public order being an equally important civil liberty but, as again Members of the other place and Peers today have argued, a balance must be sought. In the Bill before us, the balance has inexorably tipped towards the Government and their agents being the arbiters of what constitutes allowable demonstrations based on criteria which are themselves vague and subjective.

Experience tells us that, once on the statute book, a law such as this is likely to be enforced more strictly than is necessary, if only to justify the play-safe concerns that the police might have about public order and safety. It could well become the thin edge of the censorship wedge, infringing both the ICCPR and the European Convention on Human Rights. Included among the consequences of this legislation is the real possibility that an individual or individuals could be sentenced to new custodial terms for inadvertently infringing the new noise-trigger conditions. Which organiser of a procession or demonstration is able to precisely predict the level of noise a crowd will reach? However, the senior police officer in charge is free to stop a demonstration on the basis of a reasonable expectation that noise may reach a social disruption level. Who determines acceptable or unacceptable noise levels? What constitutes a “significant” impact on bystanders? Clause 56 adds to the existing police limitations on the duration, location and size of public assemblies, by allowing more general powers to impose

“such conditions as appear to the officer necessary to prevent the disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation mentioned in subsection (1).”

These are very wide powers.

Clause 61 criminalises children for taking part in non-violent protest and creates harsh sentencing for children who “ought to know” that restrictions were in place. This is especially confusing since the restrictions are themselves uncertain and arbitrary, depending on the judgment of the existing officer in charge. Former senior policeman have themselves seriously questioned these clauses as pitting the police against the communities that they serve.

The vague conditions of many clauses will have a chilling effect on legitimate protest because severe restrictions can be imposed in anticipation of undue noise having an impact on those in the vicinity. Furthermore, the organisers could face an 11-month sentence for any breaches of police conditions, conditions which henceforth can be provoked by a one-person protest. By way of mollification, the Bill offers a fatuous sentence which states that the police will need to consider the human rights of protesters before using these powers. I wonder how this will be achieved.

These are disproportionate measures to deal with an issue that is not, as yet, a major public order problem. The longer-term result is that Governments and other decision-makers will be more able to avoid scrutiny or being held to account, and ordinary citizens will be silenced for expressing opposition to policies that affect them adversely. What I think this Bill will do, if enacted in its present form, is force protest of whatever kind into a far more dangerous underground channel.

I will be supporting amendments that either remove Part 3 of the Bill entirely or alter these clauses radically, by upholding the fundamental right to assemble and protest publicly.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Tuesday 22nd March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 123-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons Reasons and Amendments - (21 Mar 2022)
It is not that I want reassurance from the Government. If anything, I want us to have a pause on this. It has become fashionable to feel that you have to say such things. I am as concerned as anyone about the problems with prosecutions and convictions for rape. These are discrete and important issues for us to deal with. Under the auspices of concern about misogyny, we have to be careful. If you oppose acting—or being seen to act—in relation to misogyny, I really do not want to be told that it means one is cavalier about violence against girls and women. Of course I am not cavalier about that; why would I be? But this is not a rampaging issue that threatens everyone, and it needs to be dealt with proportionately and with some sensitivity, rather than under a banner headline.
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, in defending freedom of expression, which often includes offensive speech, various criteria are maintained, which largely concern the context in which the speech occurs. There are two particular aspects. The first is whether the hate speech, misogynistic or otherwise, is able to be avoided. Is there a way in which the individual can avoid the speech, for example by not turning on the radio or their text messages, or whatever it might be? The second is one that has already been alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. It is the extent to which there is a direct relationship between hate speech, misogynistic speech, and actual harm coming to an individual woman.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who is to be commended on almost everything that she does, talked about protecting thoughts. In a way, what one is doing is contradicting that by saying that if someone is thinking about delivering offensive speech that will automatically, if it is expressed, lead to action. I think there is a tiny bit of confusion here. Although I will support the amendment, there is an element of curtailing freedom of speech that we ought to be mindful of.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, recently I was going home late and I got into a cab and was chatting to the cabbie. At some point he said, “Oh, you posh young birds”. It was so inappropriate on so many levels that I did not know what to do. I did not tip him, of course. It struck me that it was not necessarily offensive—but I did object to it.

I have heard today two incredibly powerful speeches in favour of the Motion, from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I do not understand why the Government have not heard this message. It is not coming from just these two people; it is coming from millions of women who experience misogyny and really do need protection. It is not enough to say, as the police often do, “Don’t wear short skirts, don’t go out after dark and don’t drink too much” and things like that. This is on a completely different level. It is about protecting women who cannot protect themselves, so I hope that the Government are listening.

I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, was writing very seriously during these speeches. I hope he was making prestigious notes about what was said and how important it was, and I hope the Government are listening.