Tuesday 25 May 2021 11:15 am

Barristers warn Government on free speech clampdown in Policing Bill

The UK’s barristers’ body has warned the Government it risks “criminalising annoying speech” in the Policing Bill currently making its way through Parliament.

The Bar Council said that proposals for “harassment in a public place” would render irritating or annoying speech a criminal offence.

The provisions go much further than current laws which only criminalise speech that is either disorderly or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

Read more: Ministers must avoid slap-dash rules for Covid passports or they risk falling foul of human rights laws

The Bar Council has also suggested the Bill would “allow the Government to prevent protests it doesn’t agree with” and give the police “expansive powers of arrest” at demonstrations.

The Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes provisions that strengthen the response to assaults on emergency workers, criminal damage to war memorials as well as public order powers.

“We are not fundamentally opposed to the Bill,” the Bar Council has said in a briefing to MPs, but said the Council believes that “some proposals raise issues in relation to access to justice and the rule of law.

“In some cases, they also appear contrary to common sense,” the briefing continued.

The Government has come under fire recently from a number of civil rights and free speech groups.

Amongst the concerns raised are vaccine passports as well as data collection via the Test and Trace system.

Read more: New Covid restrictions pass in parliament despite large Tory rebellion