Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005: Wikis

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The Serious Organized Crime and Police Act 2005 (c.15) (often abbreviated to SOCPA) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom aimed primarily at creating the Serious Organised Crime Agency, it also significantly extended and simplified the powers of arrest of a constable and introduced unprecedented restrictions on expressing political dissent in public. It was introduced into the House of Commons on 24 November 2004 and was passed by Parliament and given Royal Assent in April 2005.

Measures to introduce a specific offence of "incitement to religious hatred" were included in early drafts of the Act, but then dropped in order to get the bill passed before the UK general election, 2005. (The offence has since been created as the Racial and Religious Hatred Act.)

Contents

Extent of application

The Act applies only to England and Wales except where s.179 increases the extent or designates sections applying only to Scotland and/or Northern Ireland; additionally s.179(9) extends the application of four sections (ss.172, 173, 177, 178) beyond the United Kingdom to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Changes to powers of arrest (England and Wales)

The Act introduced changes to the powers of arrest utilised by both "constables" and "other persons" in England and Wales. The term arrestable offence ceased to have effect as, bar a few preserved exemptions, one power of arrest now applies to all offences when the arrest is made by a constable. Where the threshold of an arrestable offence was previously used to enable specific powers of search or powers to delay certain entitlements, these powers are preserved, but the threshold is changed to that of an indictable offence.[1]

A constable may arrest without a warrant anyone who is about to or is in the act of committing an offence, or anyone they have reasonable grounds to suspect of committing or being about to commit an offence. They may also arrest anyone they have reasonable grounds to believe is guilty of an offence they suspect has been committed. These powers to arrest only apply if one or more of the following reasons apply:

  1. To enable the name of the person in question to be ascertained (in the case where the constable does not know, and cannot readily ascertain, the person's name, or has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given by the person as his name is his "real name")
  2. As reason 1 but in respect of the person's address
  3. To prevent the person in question:
    • Causing physical injury to themselves or any other person
    • Suffering physical injury
    • Causing loss of or damage to property
    • Committing an offence against public decency (but only where members of the public going about their normal business cannot reasonably be expected to avoid the person in question)
    • Causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway
  4. To protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person being arrested
  5. To allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person being arrested
  6. To prevent any prosecution for the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person being arrested

Given the scope of the last two provisions, a new Code of Practice was issued for guidance.

These changes were enacted on 1 January 2006.

Protests near Parliament

The Act is controversial primarily for an additional, entirely unrelated provision, which restricts the right to demonstrate within an exclusion zone of up to one kilometre from any point in Parliament Square. Demonstrators have to apply to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police six days in advance, or if this is not reasonably practicable then no less than 24 hours in advance. No equivalent provision is made for any other Parliament in the United Kingdom.

The area itself is defined by a Statutory Instrument rather than the Act. It specifically excludes Trafalgar Square, a traditional site of protest on the northern boundary of the area. Apart from Parliament it also includes Whitehall, Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, the Middlesex Guildhall, New Scotland Yard, and the Home Office. It also covers a small section of land on the other bank of the River Thames, including County Hall, the Jubilee Gardens, St Thomas' Hospital and the London Eye.

These provisions of the Act are widely believed to have been introduced as a result of Brian Haw, a peace campaigner, who has since 1 June 2001 protested against Britain and the USA's policy towards Iraq. He uses placards and a loudspeaker to get his message across, which some British MPs find disruptive. Patrick Cormack MP said in a Parliamentary debate on 7 February 2005 that the lives of "members of staff in Portcullis House and 1 Parliament Street, as well as the police who are on duty at Members entrance day after day … are made intolerable by those people baying away, without a crowd to address, merely repeating themselves ad nauseam."

However, others, such as Jeremy Corbyn MP disagreed, saying "The Minister should think carefully about removing rights that are enshrined in our history," and Glenda Jackson MP agreed with him. "I regard it as the voice of democracy", she said.

Lembit Öpik MP drew attention to the comments of the Prime Minister Tony Blair, who, on 7 April 2002, said: "When I pass protestors every day at Downing Street... I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom."

The legislation initially appeared ineffective against Mr Haw. The High Court of Justice ruled that as Haw's protest had begun in June 2001 he wasn't required to get authorisation. The three-strong judicial panel accepted arguments by Mr Haw's lawyers that the law only applied to new demonstrations taking place after it came into force, not those which had been in progress for some time.[2] However, on 8 May 2006, this decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal.[3][4]

On 1 August 2005, the day that the Act came into force, the Stop the War Coalition and others organised a protest against the prohibition. They did not officially ask for permission, but at the subsequent court cases it was revealed that the Stop the War Coalition had negotiated with police about the protest. The action attracted some 200 people according to reports — among them Lauren Booth, Tony Blair's sister-in-law — and saw five people arrested.

The first conviction under the Act was in December 2005, when Maya Evans was convicted for reading the names of British soldiers killed in the Iraq War, near the Cenotaph in October, without police authorisation.[5]

In 2006, the comedian and political activist Mark Thomas attacked this section of the act by organising several protests within the area, within the confines of the law. His most notable was when he organised 21 protests over the course of a single day within the area. This act got Thomas into the Guinness Book of Records for taking part in the most protests in a single day. However, as the first and last protest took place in the same location, only 20 protests recognised by Guinness.[6] [7]

In January 2007 Tate Britain opened State Britain, an installation by artist Mark Wallinger that recreated the display confiscated by the police from Brian Haw's protest. The Tate press release on the exhibition mentioned that the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 prohibited "unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square" and that this radius passed through the Duveen Hall, literally bisecting Wallinger's exhibit.[8] Wallinger marked this on the floor with a black line running through the Tate. Press reports dwelt on the potential dangers of this infringement, speculating that the police might even remove the half of the exhibit on the "wrong side of the line".[9] Charles Thomson of the Stuckists art group wrote to The Guardian, pointing out that the exclusion zone ended at Thorney Street, 300 yards before the Tate.[10]

Gordon Brown has said he plans to look again at this section of the SOCPA,[11] meaning that protesters may eventually be able to protest freely in the kilometre-radius of parliament without prior authorisation being needed. In October 2007, the Home Office published a public consultation document, Managing Protest Around Parliament,[12] which 'takes another look at sections 132-138 (of SOCPA) and explores whether there is another way to address the situation that would both uphold the right to protest while also giving police the powers they need to keep the peace'. Campaigners are worried that this document contains new threats to freedom of assembly and the right to protest in that is suggests that there could be 'harmonisation of powers to manage marches and assemblies' throughout the UK.

Harassment

SOCPA also amended the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 so that "pursuing a course of conduct" amounting to harassment could mean approaching two people just once, rather than one person at least twice, as before. Commentators such as George Monbiot have voiced the concern that the amended Harassment Act effectively "allows the police to ban any campaign they please".[13]

Notes and references

  1. ^ OPSI (2005). "Police powers etc.". Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2005/ukpga_20050015_en_10. Retrieved 2009-04-18.  
  2. ^ http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2005/2061.html
  3. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4983780.stm
  4. ^ http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2006/532.html
  5. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4507446.stm
  6. ^ Naomi Gallichan (2006-11-22). "Review: Mark Thomas, The Royal Court, Liverpool". liverpool.com. http://www.liverpool.com/editor-s-pick/mark-thomas-the-royal-court-liverpool.html. Retrieved 2009-06-24.  
  7. ^ Mark Thomas (2006-10-12). "Mark Thomas on demonstrating near the Houses of Parliament". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1920095,00.html. Retrieved 2009-06-24.  
  8. ^ http://www.tate.org.uk/about/pressoffice/pressreleases/2007/8401.htm "State Britain by Mark Wallinger" Tate press release, 15 January 2007. Accessed 3 February 2007
  9. ^ Teeman, Tim "State Britain" The Times, 16 January 2007. Accessed online 3 February 2007
  10. ^ Thomson, Charles "As we like it" The Guardian 19 January 2007. Accessed online 3 February 2007
  11. ^ BBC News 24
  12. ^ Home Office
  13. ^ George Monbiot, The Guardian, 5 February 2009, Why protesters are now stalkers

See also

External links

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