When you see a document on the Home Office website called "humanrights.pdf" you might hope that this would be something which would enhance your human rights, in accordance with their motto of "Building a safe, just and tolerant society", but, a moment's recollection of the Big Brother Awards, will banish these flights of fancy. This document is entitled "Animal Welfare - Human Rights: protecting people from animal rights extremists" which is actually Orwellian Newspeak for new legal measures which will remove some more of our human rights to peaceful protest, even in matters not at all related to animal rights demonstrations or extremism.
Tony Blair and David Blunkett seem to be indulging, yet again, in "soundbite politics", and in the run up to the General Election seem to be promising something i.e. a clampdown on animal rights extremists, which they have failed to deliver, whilst they have been in power over the last seven years.
People and politicians should ask themselves how these general amendments to laws will affect, for example the Ulster Orangemen's marcheswhich pass by people's homes in Northern Ireland, or the anti-war protests and anti- President George Bush demonstratiions (which pass by the homes of the Prime Minister or the Queen), or the Fuel Tax protests, which are not Trades Union strike pickets.
All of these could fall foul of measures which are nominally about animal rights extremists, but which , in the usual power hungry Home Office style will be applicable generally.
The Home Office press release lists three new amendments or laws:
"To make it an offence for a person to be outside a home for the purpose of representing to or persuading the resident, or anyone else, that he should not do something he is entitled to do, or that he should do something he is not obliged to do and causing harassment, alarm or distress to the resident. The new offence will not apply to conduct that is lawful under section 220 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (the right to picket a workplace peacefully). The new offence would be arrestable so that the police will be able to make an arrest where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting the offence has taken place and have reasonable grounds for suspecting the protestor is guilty of the offence. This means that the police will be able to deal with protestors after the event which will address the difficulties of having to enforce a direction at the scene of the protest. "
At what point does a peaceful protest become one where "harassment" takes place ? When the name calling and booing starts ? When people dressed in paramilitary uniforms become visible ?
So instead of having enough police able to respond quickly enough to a demonstration outside a pharmaceutical scientist's home, they propose to continue to just arrest the usual suspects, on a mere suspicion, rather than on any direct evidence. Or is the plan to use even more dodgy CCTV camera "evidence" to establish who exactly has been involved in a protest ? Unless the police are there in sufficient numbers, they cannot enforce measures such as the "anti-hunt saboteur" provisions of forcing people to remove their facial coverings so that they can be video taped.
"Amending section 42 (7) of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 to make it an offence for a person subject to a direction to return to the vicinity of the premises within three months for the purposes of representing to or persuading the resident or another that he should not do something he is entitled to do or that he should do something he is not obliged to do."
This provision is almost certainly going to be used against, for example Fuel Tax protestors, who are not involved in Trades Union strike picketing per se, rather than against animal rights extremeists.
"Amending the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Section 2 makes it a criminal offence for a person to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another and which that person knows amounts to harassment of the other. To secure a conviction it needs to be proven that there is a course of conduct in which a person harassed another. The courts have applied a strict interpretation of the word "another" which has confined the application of this provision to harassment of specific individuals and thus employees of a company do not presently benefit from this provision when they have not previously themselves been harassed, even though a fellow employee has been. In order to address this problem, the Government is proposing to extend the Act to cover harassment of two or more people who are connected (e.g. employees of the same company) even if each individual is harassed on only one occasion. "
This might be a reasonable measure, except that there does not seem to be any "fast track" legal process whereby small businesses and sub-contractors can apply for protection under this law without incurring high legal costs. The Government plans do not seem to address this "one law for the rich, another for the poor" injustice.
Why are there no "animal extremist" organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000 ? The list of proscribed terrorist organisations includes such ill defined groups as Al Queada, and the various pseudonyms of Northern Irish terrorists, so why is there no mention of the Animal Liberation Front etc. ?
It is astonishing that the Terrorism Act has been used against peaceful pacifist anti-arms trade demonstrators, yet it has not been used against violent animal rights activists.
There is already a whole forest of draconian legislation which exists to deal with animal extremists and other protestors. If the authorities cannot get the evidence to use the following long list of existing laws, then why should anyone believe that the new laws will be enforced any better ?
EXISTING PROVISIONS WHICH CAN BE USED TO TACKLE ACTIVITIES CARRIED OUT BY ANIMAL RIGHTS EXTREMISTS