THE POLICE, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was considered again by the House of Commons this week. Although much of the focus of attention on this Bill has been on provisions relating to organised protests, this Bill covers a large number of subjects, including tougher sentences for those who assault emergency workers and for those who commit serious violent and sexual offences. It provides for changes in court processes and evidence, cautions, road traffic offences, greater protection for children and many other things. It extends to 176 clauses, of which only 7 cover the issues of public order, and I think there has been some misunderstanding about the effect of those clauses.
The Bill does not prevent peaceful protest but it does extend the restrictions police officers can impose upon it, including to allow similar restrictions to be imposed on assemblies to those that can already be imposed on processions. It is also important to be clear that, in part, the Bill translates a common law offence of public nuisance into statute, in accordance with the recommendations of the Law Commission, a body independent of Government. Also in accordance with the recommendations of the Law Commission, the Bill actually makes a conviction for causing a public nuisance harder to obtain than is currently the case, requiring intention or recklessness on the part of the defendant rather than negligence which will suffice currently. Some ask whether a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment is appropriate for the statutory offence proposed, but it is necessary to take into account that the offence encompasses the causing of death or injury as well as just serious annoyance, so sentencing powers need to be broad enough to deal with offending at the serious end of the spectrum as well as the more trivial. It is also worth taking account of the fact that the sentence available to courts considering the current common law offence is unlimited.
This Bill does not contain the assault on our liberties some have suggested, and contains much to welcome. That is why I continued to support it this week.