Police will be granted explicit authority over slow-walk protests

In accordance with a law approved by Parliament, the police in England and Wales will be granted more explicit authority to halt demonstrations deemed to be extremely disruptive.

The House of Lords approved the new regulations despite an opposition peer's attempt to block them. The new law gives officers greater discretion to intervene when protesters attempt to obstruct roads with a slow march.

Protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, and Insulate Britain have employed this strategy. The new law follows the passage of the Public Order Act last month, which was designed to give police more authority to suppress protests deemed disruptive.

According to the government, new regulations are necessary because the police lack clarification regarding when they can use their existing powers. The regulations reduce the level of protest activity that constitutes "serious disruption."

Suella Braverman, the home secretary, stated that certain protest organizations' disruptors had a significant impact and that the police must be able to prevent this from occurring. Critics, however, have labeled the new measures as an assault on the right to protest, arguing that the police are already able to halt slow-walking demonstrations under existing laws.

The regulations were approved by a vote of 277 in favor and 220 against on Monday. On Tuesday in the House of Lords, some opposition peers attempted to prevent the regulations from becoming law through parliamentary maneuvers.

Ministers had previously attempted to amend the Public Order Act to prohibit slow-walking demonstrations, but their efforts were narrowly defeated by peers. Given this, Baroness Jones, a Green peer, introduced a "fatal motion" urging members not to approve the regulations since they had already been rejected by Parliament.

Baroness Jones urged her peers to support her motion, stating that this was a "authoritarian law that gives the police and the Home Office the authority to determine what constitutes a good or bad protest." She stated that the law was being implemented in an authoritarian manner by ministerial decree.

Lord Sharpe, minister of the Home Office, referred to the baroness's motion as "highly unusual," stating that it intended to "overturn legislation passed by the elected House and undermine sensible changes that bring clarity and consistency to the law." The peers voted against the baroness's motion by a margin of 68 to 154, or a majority of 86.

While peers condemned the government's actions in reintroducing regulations that had been rejected by peers in primary legislation,As it is customary to respect the will of the elected House of Commons, Labour did not support the fatal motion. A few minutes earlier, peers supported a Labour "regret motion" by a vote of 177 to 141, which outlined criticisms of the regulations but did not obstruct them.

Politicians have exerted a great deal of pressure on the police regarding their handling of recent protests by Just Stop Oil. Following the arrest of anti-monarchy demonstrators on the day of King Charles' coronation, however, the Public Order Act was criticized for its excessively broad and crude police powers.

In less than two years, the 2023 Public Order Act is the second significant piece of legislation to alter protest laws. In 2022, the House of Representatives voted to impose stricter restrictions on boisterous public processions.