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Wednesday 23rd May 2012 | 09:46
A law expert from the University of East Anglia will today slam the Coalition government for its failure to "restore rights to non-violent protest" - two years after pledging to do so.
Senior law lecturer David Mead is calling for the implementation of a Peaceful Protest Act which would eradicate the concept of 'unlawful' assembly from both law and policing practice.
Mead is a specialist in the law of peaceful protest, public order and British human rights. He has previously provided policy advice to the Home Office and to Chief Constables on regulating protest. His article will be published by the UK Constitutional Law Group on its blog.
He said: "It is exactly two years since the coalition's Programme for Government which pledged to restore rights to non-violent protest.
"But where are the consultations, the public statements of support, the draft bills and other indicators of government interest? The sidelining of protest couldn't be clearer. It is not a broken society that the coalition needs to worry about but broken promises."
The move comes after reform of the Public Order Act 1986, which bans 'insulting' words or behaviour, was put back on the political agenda by MPs and civil rights groups last week. But calls from campaigners including Peter Tatchell have not gone far enough, according to Mead.
"Restoring the right to peaceful protest will not be achieved by making it no longer an offence to utter insulting words or removing the restrictions on demonstrations near Parliament. The past couple of years have seen a series of cases that have moved the law on protest backwards, not advanced it
"For too long, protest NIMBYism has dominated. We think nothing of the inconvenience caused by all night queues outside the Apple store or the disruption at 5pm on Saturdays as football crowds disperse. Yet we clamour for a clamp down when a march causes temporary street closures.
"We need a Peaceful Protest Act to eradicate the concept of unlawful assembly from both law and policing practice. The right to protest peacefully is an individual right and shouldn't be lost simply because others are violent or intend serious harm.
"Seeing protestors as an amorphous mob lies behind the legitimising of kettling, treating everyone as a potential threat on the basis of suspicions of perhaps a handful.
"A Peaceful Protest Act would provide criteria to assess whether or not a protester is 'peaceful', not whether they would cause disruption or inconvenience."
Mead is the author of The New Law of Peaceful Protest: Rights and Regulation in the Human Rights Act Era published by Hart in 2010.