Life after the CJA: Public Order Monitoring
by Liz Parratt, Campaigns Officer, Liberty
Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995, pp.44-45.
Liberty fears that the new public order powers in Part V of the Criminal Justice Act are likely to exacerbate the very ‘problems’ there were supposed to ‘solve’. Furthermore, they may lead to an increase in the routine violence meted out to peaceful protesters by private security personnel, who are already notorious for taking the law into their own hands, for example, at anti-hunt protests and anti-hunt actions. They may feel that their assaults have a greater legitimacy now that their victims are labelled as potential criminals just for trespassing. Farmers and other landowners who use violence to evict travellers may feel they have greater justification than before the Act.
Worst of all, the new laws risk breaching internationally agreed human rights standards by outlawing the freedom from discrimination, equal protection by the law, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, and the right to privacy and family life.
Liberty has launched a new Public Monitoring Project aiming to subject the use of the new laws in Part V to the closest possible scrutiny, with three aims in mind:
1. By exposing abuses and keeping them in the spotlight of public attention, some restraining influence may be possible over the way the new powers are used in practice. It may be possible to reduce the likelihood of similar legislation being introduced in the future by showing that injustice and intolerance are not vote-winners; gathered material will be used to put pressure on any future governments to repeal all measures breaching international standards.
2. We aim to identify and support test cases to challenge specific measures in the Act in the Appeal Courts of England and Wales, and in the European Court of Human Rights.
3. We will also try to ensure that defendants receive the best possible legal representation by referring people to appropriate solicitors where necessary. We’ll also put lawyers working on similar cases in contact with each other wherever we think this might be helpful.
What we would like to know:
- Exact date and time of incident.
- Precisely what happened in as much detail as you can remember.
- What you were doing immediately before the incident. Numbers of the police officers involved, or descriptions of private security personnel.
- Names and phone numbers of any witnesses, and any photographers, press or independent video makers who were there.
- Reasons for any arrests and/or charges.
- Your own address and phone number.
- The name, address and phone number of your solicitor, if you have one.
The monitoring will be conducted in two ways:
1. We are strongly encouraging anyone who is affected by the new public order measures to provide us with written accounts of their experiences, preferably using our standard monitoring forms. This includes anyone who is stopped, searched, detained, evicted, ordered to leave land, or who has their property confiscated or their home destroyed, as well as anyone banned from organising a protest or other event or prevented from attending one, and anyone who is subject to an Interim Possession Order (new measures to evict squatters).
2. We are also planning to provide legal observers for a limited range of key protests and other events where we consider that an independent eye-witness account would be especially useful, or where we might be able to have some restraining effect on policing in practice.
While many people are keen to get hold of legal observers, far fewer are confident about providing their own written accounts of evictions, arrests for aggravated trespass etc. If you’ve never written up something like this before, please don’t be put off. Structure your report around the usual questions, examples of which are shown in the accompanying table.
Although Liberty can’t provide observers for every event, our modest aim is to find out everything that happens to everyone under Part V of the new Act, and use both to discredit this Government and get the measures repealed by the next one. We can compile far more evidence if people write to us as well as relying on legal observers. So, even if your account is brief, we would rather hear from you than hear nothing.
Furthermore, if we’re really going to kick the Government into touch and influence how the measures are used in practice, the fear that everyone knows their rights, knows their public order law, and is ready to record and publicise their own experiences of injustice, violence and malpractice should prove to be a useful irritant.
Several organisations are assisting Liberty with monitoring. They will be assessing the need for legal observers at particular events, and reporting arrests under Part V of the Act; we have also asked them to monitor arrests under the Public Order Act 1986, the use of Breach of the Peace powers, and any public order incidents involving private security personnel.
Other organisations, notably SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes), are launching their own projects to monitor uses and abuses of the new laws. So, ideally, contact the people on the table in the first instance. If you’re not sure who to contact, phone the Liberty Campaigns office instead.
We are keen to find more people to help with monitoring travellers evictions. If you’re a traveller, or have friends or family who are, then do please contact us if you would be willing to help.
During 1994, numerous local Liberty groups were formed by people campaigning against the Criminal Justice Bill. Liberty groups also campaign on a wide range of other human rights issues, with the ultimate aim of securing a Bill of Rights for this country as we believe this is the only way our basic human rights would be safe from the whim of government. If you would like to start a local Liberty Group contact Mary-Ann Stephenson on 071 357 8689.
Calling all Lawyers
At the time of writing, Liberty has about 30 lawyers who have generously agreed to act as legal observers on an occasional basis, in their spare time. However, we desperately need more, particularly outside London. We provide full briefing and instructions, food, transport and those flattering bright yellow legal observer jackets. Most of the work takes place on weekends, sometimes at short notice, although anyone who could observe on weekdays would be a great asset. Trainee lawyers are especially welcome. If you know any lawyers who would be interested in helping with out monitoring work, or who would like to find out more about what’s involved, please ask them to contact Liz in the Campaigns office.
Advance Party, PO Box 3290, London, NW2 3UJ. 0181 659 9439
SQUASH, 2 St. Paul’s Road, London, N1 2QN, 0171 226 8938
Steve Staines Friends and Families,
33 Bryanston Street, Blandford, Dorset, DT11 7AZ, 0258 453695
Hunt Saboteurs Association, PO Box 1, Carlton, Nottingham. 0602 590357
Anti Nuclear Weapons Protest
Eyrlis Rhiannon, YCND, 162 Holloway Road, London N7 8DQ
All other protests*
Liz Parratt, Liberty Campaigns,
21 Tabard Street, London SE1, 0171 357 8689
Freedom Network, The Old Dole House, 372 Coldharbour Ln, London SW2, 0171 738 6721
* NB this includes roads - Road Alert are helping to publicise the monitoring project but otherwise they’re too busy with current road protests to take more phone calls.
The Freedom Network and Brighton Justice are both co-ordinating support to defendants such as protests outside courts and letters to those in prison. Freedom Network to above, Brighton Justice are at 12 Prior House, 6 Tilbury Place, Brighton BN2 2GY.
For more articles about the Criminal Justice Act and Public Order Act 1994 - covering the build-up, the resistance, the consequences, plus commentary of discussions in the House of Commons about it click here.