Friday 15 November 2013
Peaceful protests could be outlawed on the sole grounds that they might annoy nearby residents under contentious new powers being granted to councils, campaign groups warn.
The “shockingly open-ended” orders could also be used to ban youngsters from skateboarding, forbid teenagers from using local parks and prevent demonstrators from gathering outside council offices, it has been claimed.
The powers are contained within a little-noticed section of the Government’s Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.
The new public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) are intended to give town halls the authority to tackle drinking, aggressive begging, and dog-fouling, in specified areas. The Home Office said it would stop public spaces being turned into “no-go zones”.
But campaigners claim that the legislation is so loosely worded that the new powers could be used to stifle legitimate demonstrations and criminalise youngsters.
They raised the alarm on the 30th anniversary of the women’s peace camp being set up at Greenham Common in Berkshire, which critics claimed was the sort of protest that could be thwarted by the new powers.
Concerns about the illiberal nature of some of the Bill’s provisions centre on plans to establish PSPOs, which are replacing alcohol-control zones, dog-control orders and gating orders as well as local by-laws.
They can be used by councils, following consultation with police, to restrict any activity deemed to have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”.
The vague wording, and the failure to define the size of the areas to be covered, has led to fears they could be deployed to impose blanket bans on lawful activities.
People falling foul of the new restrictions would then be punished with on-the-spot fines, which could be issued by private security guards working on commission for councils.