Welsh Government’s chief legal adviser: The UK Public Order Act is authoritarian and draconian

Written by Bobby Kelly

May 23, 2023

The Welsh Government’s chief legal adviser has warned the Welsh Senedd that the UK Government’s Public Order Act puts historic freedoms around peaceful protest at risk.

In a statement Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution in Wales, has said new powers are “authoritarian”, “draconian” and “risked undermining trust in policing”.

The Public Order Act gives police extra powers to prevent protests deemed to be violent or excessively disruptive – this includes new offences related to ‘locking on’, extending the use of stop and search powers, and introducing new protest banning orders which can prevent people from attending protests.

The Public Order Act became law in the days leading up to the King’s Coronation, with the Metropolitan Police admitting it was wrong to arrest six anti-monarchy demonstrators.

Liberty responded to the arrests of the anti-monarchy demonstrators by calling it an “embarrassing episode”. Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty said:

“This embarrassing episode for the Met demonstrates the dangers of handing broad and poorly-defined powers to the police – who we know by now are all too happy to use and abuse those powers.”

The police are operationally independent of the Welsh Government, nonetheless, Mick Antoniw has confirmed the Welsh Government will continue to work with police forces to monitor the impact of the UK Public Order Act in Wales.

Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, said:

The Public Order Act puts the fundamental right of peaceful protest at risk. People have historic freedoms and rights to speak out against authority, to make their views heard and to argue for change.

Police already had a range of powers to take action against violent or excessively disruptive protests. It would have been preferable to find ways to support the proportionate use of existing powers, but what we are seeing is the introduction of new and extreme powers that erode the right to peaceful protest.

I am particularly concerned with the widening of powers on stop and search – Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities already experience disproportionate use of this police power.”

The Counsel General added:

“The regressive provisions in the Public Order Act imposed on the people of Wales by the UK Government underline why the devolution of policing and criminal justice is so urgent. Only when we have full oversight of the justice system in Wales will we be able to fully align its delivery with the needs and priorities of the people and communities of Wales.”

Mick Antoniw

Divi WordPress Theme
Share to...