A police boss has hit out at Government plans to introduce new powers to crack down on protests describing them as a “ full frontal assault on human rights”.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones is against creating new powers to control the length of demonstrations, impose maximum noise levels and prosecute protestors for causing “serious annoyance”.
The anti-protest measures are contained in the 300-page Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Following two days of debates on the contentious proposals, MPs voted by 359 to 263 to pass the Bill at second reading in a move that was described as a “dark stain on our democracy”.
The draft section on “public order” states that conditions can be imposed on demonstrations if the noise generated “may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or may “have a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity of the protest.
The legislation creates a new public nuisance law that would make causing “serious annoyance or inconvenience” a crime punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
At the same time, it will aim to make it easier to convict protesters for ignoring conditions placed on a protest.
The Bill has provoked widespread condemnation from organisations as diverse as Amnesty International, the Ramblers Association.
Mr Jones, a former police inspector, said: “This is a disgraceful full-frontal assault on human rights.
“These proposed draconian powers are a real threat to our inalienable right to protest.
“This is a fundamentally important issue because people have that right to protest peacefully and this is something that should be protected.
“This authoritarian approach is a hallmark of Priti Patel’s tenure in the Home Office. Stifling free speech in this way is not acceptable and is something more befitting to a totalitarian regime.”
Dafydd Llywelyn, the Police and Crime Commissioner in Dyfed Powys, is also an opponent of the legislation.
According to Mr Llywelyn, the Bill had highlighted the need to devolve policing and criminal justice to Wales as soon as practically possible.
He said: “We need to be able to enact legislation that reflects our values as a nation in Wales.
“If it’s passed, this Bill will exacerbate the existing inequalities in our criminal justice system and will put pressure on Welsh services and further complicate the interaction between devolved and non-devolved policies.
“This is the perfect illustration of why, more than ever, the devolution of powers over justice is essential to deliver a fairer system.
“Other areas like education, health and social care are all devolved – and then you’ve got youth justice which still comes under the Ministry of Justice in London. It’s totally illogical.
“In terms of the devolution, it is now just a matter of preparing the ground because when it does happen it’s likely to happen overnight.
“It might take a number of years, but it’s important that we are properly prepared and that we have the right structures in place.”