First published on the Netpol website
Back in July 2013, Netpol expressed our concerns about proposals in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill for police powers to disperse people taking part in a lawful assembly and arrest those that did not comply. The passage of the Bill was not without controversy and in January 2014 the House of Lords briefly rejected plans for new anti-social behaviour powers, largely on the basis of how sweeping and subjective they were. However, the bill received its Royal Assent in March 2014 and came into effect in October last year.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act does include some safeguards prohibiting its use against authorised trade union pickets or political protest where written notice has been provided under section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986. Inevitably, many lawful political gatherings do not meet these criteria. The Act does also say, however, that a senior officer authorising the use of dispersal powers under section 35 “must have particular regard to the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly set out in articles 10 and 11” of the European Convention of Human Rights.
None of this prevented the use of dispersal powers under section 35 of the new Act against protesters occupying empty flats on the Aylesbury estate in Southwark, where the council has moved out tenants in preparation for ‘regeneration’ that involves demolition of the estate and building 4000 new properties over the next two decades, half “luxury” homes and the remainder supposedly “affordable”. The Southwark protesters are part of a growing protest movement against the housing crisis in London and the transfer of social housing to property developers: they had originally broken away at the end of the March for Homes that took place on 31 January.