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Civil Liberties lawyers slam Government animal rights crackdown
Posted 1 April 2005
National campaign group Animal Aid has sent an 'emergency briefing' to members of the House of Lords alerting them to the anti-democratic measures contained in the Government's Serious Organised Crime and Police (SOCP) Bill. The proposed statute, which enters its Committee Stage in the Upper House on Tuesday, 5 April, amounts to an attack upon the rights to free expression and assembly.
Campaigners protesting about the use of animals in research are the intended target of the draconian measures. However the proposals can be extended so that they criminalise many forms of currently legitimate protest. Animal Aid is convinced that the measures are bound to fail in achieving their intended objective - dealing with unacceptable campaign activity. Furthermore, there are already a raft of laws in place outlawing threatening behaviour, intimidation, harassment, property damage and physical violence.
The Animal Aid briefing - as well as containing suggested amendments to the SOCP - includes statements from leading civil rights lawyers expressing alarm at the Governments intentions.
In his letter to the peers Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler, urges them to stand firm against Government attempts to crack down on traditional liberties. His letter states:
"I do hope you will be persuaded that the proposed measures within the Bill that worry us are indeed incompatible with a society committed to the basic principles of free assembly and expression. I should make it clear that Animal Aid, in common with the vast majority of campaigners on behalf of animals, is committed unequivocally to peaceful, non-intimidatory campaigning."
Expert legal opinion on the SOCP measures:
Says Gareth Crossman
Policy Director, Liberty:
"There is a tradition of legitimate economic protest in the United Kingdom. People who objected to apartheid in South Africa refused to buy goods from that country. There may be members of this Government who boycotted South African goods. The criminalisation of economic protest is inappropriate and disproportionate. Those who make threats against suppliers, employees and so on will be committing offences and it is appropriate that criminal sanction can be used against them. Those who merely hand out leaflets should not be made into criminals. It is insufficient to give a guarantee that people will not be charged unless appropriate. This is simply making a subjective decision as to what is 'good protest' and what is 'bad protest'. There should be certainty within criminal law to protect peaceful protest."
Mike Schwarz, Leading criminal and human rights lawyer, Bindmans
"The right to protest peacefully is fundamental to a healthy democracy. There are proposals within this Bill that seriously undermine that principle. The stated targets of the new measures are animal rights protestors determined to act outside the law. The proposals are likely to do nothing to restrain such individuals. They do, however, have the potential to criminalise a large number of entirely peaceful campaigners."
Quincy Whitaker, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, Human Rights Specialist
"The encroachment on the right to peaceful protest represented by the proposed amendments to the Serious Organised Crime Bill is of serious concern and casts further doubt on the sincerity of this government's commitment to the protection of human rights. The criminalising of minor civil wrongs and the attaching of sweeping powers of arrest are potentially incompatible with the State's obligations under the ECHR to ensure its citizens rights of freedom of expression are upheld. The recent history of legislation that has been introduced ostentibly to target a particular group shows that it is applied to a far wider section of society and that legitmate protest is curtailed."
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