More than 700 legal scholars urge Boris Johnson to ditch plan for ‘draconian’ restrictions on right to protest


More than 700 of the UK’s leading legal academics have signed a stinging open letter urging Boris Johnson to ditch “draconian” restrictions on the freedom to demonstrate, in one of the largest protests of its kind in decades.

The signatories, who represent a significant proportion of the UK’s legal scholars and include more than 120 professors of law from universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and York, warned of “an alarming extension of state control over legal assembly” from measures in the prime minister’s controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Scenes of women being forced to the ground and handcuffed while attending a vigil to murder victim Sarah Everard in south London on Saturday vividly highlighted the dangers of  extending powers to control protests and public gatherings, they said.

The 300-page bill, which was rushed through its second reading in the Commons this week just days after being published, dramatically extends police powers to clamp down on protests and gives home secretary Priti Patel the power to define the kind of “serious disruption” which could lead to demonstrators being arrested and prosecuted.

Under its terms, individuals could be jailed for up to 10 years for causing  “serious annoyance or inconvenience”. Police could impose legally binding restrictions on marches or rallies on the grounds that the noise generated “may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or may “have a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity of the protest”. And unprecedented new powers could impose controls on protests by a single person.



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