Orkney and Shetland MP and Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, has today challenged the Policing Minister on the need for further scrutiny of the Public Order Act following controversial arrests of peaceful protestors last weekend.
Anti-monarchy protesters, including the chief executive of anti-monarchy group Republic Graham Smith, were arrested on Coronation day under a controversial new law, the Public Order Act 2023.
The Metropolitan Police has expressed "regret" over the arrests after a review found there was no proof the six protesters with anti-monarchy group Republic, who were arrested when their vehicle was stopped near the procession route, were planning to use "lock on" devices as had been claimed.
Recent changes to the Public Order Act, passed just days before the Coronation week, were used to target protestors.
Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“The Public Order Act has given police officers very broad and sweeping powers which in turn allows police to exercise discretion and judgement with no context or guidelines. As a consequence, if there is not change to this legislation things like this will keep happening. There should have been better pre-legislative scrutiny of this Act and there wasn’t. Will he now commit to giving post-legislative scrutiny?”
Responding, the Policing Minister Chris Philp MP said:
“Many pieces of legislation require interpretation whether by the police or in case law. Indeed the precise definitions contained in this piece of legislation include much more precise definitions of what constitutes serious disruption, which was previously ambiguous, and that clarity is something that the police and others have called for.
“Obviously this House is welcome to conduct scrutiny whenever it wants. In many areas this new Act provides additional clarity and precision that was previously lacking.”
Reacting after the exchange Mr Carmichael said:
“Freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest are an essential part of our constitutional tapestry. To damage part of that tapestry is to damage the whole of it.
“Last week the government finally bulldozed the Public Order Act through in the face of warnings that it could be used to supress legitimate protest. It is already clear that those of us who gave the warnings were correct.
“We now need a proper investigation into what went wrong here. Conservative plans to crackdown on protests are dangerous and unnecessary – it is time for a complete rethink.”