Public order bill to be amended to protect journalists covering protests

Suella Braverman will propose changes after arrests of reporters at a Just Stop Oil demonstration

Journalists are to get an extra protection from being arrested at protests after a campaign following the the detention of a reporter and photographers at a Just Stop Oil demonstration last year.

Suella Braverman, the home secretary, will introduce an amendment to the public order bill, after peers had voted through a change to stop those reporting on protests from being subject to police action.

It comes after a backlash against the arrests of LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch, the press photographer Tom Bowles, the film-maker Rich Felgate and another photographer, Ben Cawthra, by Hertfordshire police while they were covering climate protests on the M25.

The police later apologised to the journalists and an investigation, commissioned by the Hertfordshire force, concluded that “police powers were not used appropriately” in making the arrests, but stopped short of admitting they were unlawful. Following legal action by one of the journalists, the force admitted its actions were unlawful.

The government initially resisted the amendment, saying it was unnecessary as the police had conceded that their actions were unlawful. However, peers raised concerns that this was based on senior officers having ordered the arrests, rather than officers exercising their own judgment – and argued that this was not specifically covered in legislation.

The government does not accept the Lords amendment, but has proposed its own wording for consideration by MPs, which says: “A constable may not exercise a police power for the sole purpose of preventing a person from observing or reporting on a protest” or on the “exercise of police power” in relation to a protest.

With the legislation returning to the House of Commons on Tuesday, Shami Chakrabarti, the Labour peer and civil liberties campaigner, said: “Lords expressed concerns about the disproportionality of the public order bill by inflicting a number of defeats upon the government around human rights violations such as stop and search without suspicion and protest banning orders without conviction.

“However, whatever MPs think about the bill’s various incursions into the right to peaceful dissent, they must surely agree with an overwhelming cross-party majority in the Lords that those who report on protests must be protected from abuses of police power.”

Explaining the amendment, the government said it was in response to the arrest of Lynch by Hertfordshire police, adding: “The government is clear that the role of members of the press must be respected and that they are able to do their job freely without restriction. We remain of the view that this amendment is unnecessary as it is already unlawful for the police to exercise their powers on journalists or any person where there is no legitimate need to do so.

“However, we recognise the strength of feeling expressed by the Lords on this issue. We have therefore brought a government amendment in lieu which retains the sentiment of the original measure but ensures it doesn’t undermine the legitimate use of police powers of arrest and to maintain public order and public safety.”


Rowena Mason Whitehall editor

The GuardianTramp

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