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
Public Order Act 1986
The Act contains a range of offences aimed at preventing harassment, alarm or distress to individuals, ranging from riot to relatively low level harassment. The behaviour of offender must be threatening, abusive or insulting: so it is unlikely
to catch behaviour which is non-threatening but might be seen by some as amounting to intimidation. There is likely to be a range of interpretation by the police on when behaviour crosses the threshold.
Section 4 contains the offence of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or
behaviour or displaying threatening, abusive or insulting writing or signs. The behaviour must be directed to a person with intent either to cause him to believe immediate unlawful violence will be used; or to provoke such violence; or to cause him to believe such violence will be used.
Section 4A contains the offence of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or displaying threatening, abusive or insulting writing or signs. The person must intend to cause harassment, alarm or distress and must actually do so. It is a defence for the accused to show his conduct was reasonable.
Section 5 makes it an offence to use or display such words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. The conduct need not be directed against a particular person but the
accused must intend his words or behaviour to be threatening, abusive or nsulting or be aware that they may be. It is a defence to show that there was no reason to believe there was anyone within sight or hearing likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. It is also a defence if the accused can show his conduct was reasonable.
Section 14 allows for a Chief Officer to impose conditions on a public assembly if he reasonably believes that it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community. Conditions may also be imposed if the same reasonable belief is present that the purpose of the organisers of the assembly is to intimidate others with a view to compelling them to do or not do an act they have a right to do.
- the place where the assembly may be held, eg across the road from the target companies premises rather than directly outside the main doors;
- its maximum duration;
- the maximum number of persons who may constitute it.
The definition of "a public assembly" was amended by the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 (with effect from 20th January 2004) from "a gathering of 20 or more people" to "a gathering of 2 or more people" in the open air. "
It is an ongoing scandal that "a public assembly" now consists of only 2 people !
This is a nonsensical and repressive bit of law, which applies to all situations, not just animal protests.
Presumably women in the advanced stages of pregnancy now constitute "a public assembly", since an unborn baby is a legal "person". How can this be "proportionate" and compatible with the right of Freedom of Assembly and Association under the Human Rights Act 1998 ?
"It allows the Chief Officer to impose those conditions he believes necessary to prevent disorder, disruption or intimidation. It is an offence to knowingly organise, or take part in an assembly knowingly in contravention of a condition."
The words "knowingly organise" imply that it must be possible to "unknowingly organise" something, which is clearly illogical.
"The offences carry a statutory power of arrest.
Section 14A provides for orders to be made prohibiting trespassory assemblies. The orders are made by the local council at the request of the police (in London by the Commissioner) and require the Secretary of State?s consent. The
police must believe that an assembly of 20 or more people is likely to be held on land without the permission of the occupier or exceeding the public?s right of access and that it may result in serious disruption to the life of the community.
An order can be made for a maximum of 4 days and a maximum of 5 miles radius from a specified centre. It acts to prohibit all trespassory assemblies within the area during that period.
Malicious Communications Act 1988
Under this Act it is an offence to send communications or other articles with intent to cause distress or anxiety. The 1988 Act was strengthened by section 43 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 to cover all forms of communication such as email, faxes and telephone calls.
Section 241 of Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992
Section 241 creates an offence where various activities are carried out with a view to compelling another person to abstain from doing or to do any act which that person has a legal right to do or to abstain from doing. The behaviour must be "wrongful" ie it must amount to a civil wrong such as nuisance, intimidation or trespass. Relevant activities include using violence to or intimidating the person concerned or his family; injuring his property; and watching or besetting his house or place of business or its approaches.
The section is most obviously relevant in the context of trade disputes. However, it is not limited in its terms to such a dispute and one of
the leading cases concerns a demonstration outside an abortion clinic. That case (DPP v Fidler 1 WLR 91) may also illustrate the difficulties in prosecuting for the offence in the context of pickets and demonstrations as it turned on the difference between "compelling" and "persuading". The defendants argued
successfully that their actions were designed to persuade, not to compel women not to have terminations. The offence will also only be available where the protestors? action is tortious. If the demonstration is entirely peaceful and
does not involve trespass or intimidation or amount to a public nuisance, no offence under section 241 may be committed.
Protection from Harassment Act 1997
It is a criminal offence under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another- harassment includes alarming or causing a person distress and conduct includes speech. An intention to cause harassment is not necessary, but it is necessary
to show that a reasonable person would think the behaviour amounted to harassment. It is a defence to show that the course of conduct was reasonable in the particular circumstances.
It is an offence under section 4 of the Act to pursue a course of conduct causing another to fear that violence will be used against him. The court may make a restraining order on conviction for either offence and a victim of harassment
may take civil proceedings under section 3 of the Act for an injunction and damages for any resulting anxiety or financial loss. The perceived
limitations of the powers are that they require a "course of conduct" and an identified individual against whom civil proceedings may be brought.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was amended by section 44 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 to clarify that it is an offence for a group of people to collude with each other to cause others harassment, alarm or distress, where each one of the perpetrators only undertakes one action
Breach of the Peace
The common law power to arrest to prevent a breach of the peace may also be available.
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
The offence of aggravated trespass was created by Section 68 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, primarily to deal with the activities of hunt saboteurs.
A person commits an offence if he trespasses on land and in relation to any lawful activity which persons are engaging in on that land, does anything which is intended to intimidate or deter persons from engaging in that activity, or
obstructing or disrupting that activity. The Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 extended the offence of aggravated trespass to include buildings with
effect from 20th January 2004.
It is a known tactic of protestors to rush into a building with a view to intimidating, obstructing or disrupting people from going about their
lawful business. Animal rights protestors use this tactic to disrupt the activities of targeted companies.
Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001
Section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 allows a police officer to give directions to any person who is "outside or in the vicinity of" a home, providing that
- the police officer reasonably believes that the purpose of the protestor?s presence is to persuade somebody to do something which they are not under any obligation to do, or conversely, not to do something which they are entitled to do; and
- the police officer reasonably believes that the presence of the person or people to whom he is giving the direction amounts to harassment of the resident, or is likely to result in harassment or to cause alarm or distress to the resident.
The direction may include any requirements the police officer considers necessary to prevent the harassment of the resident or the causing of alarm or distress to the resident. Failure to comply with a direction is an offence and the
police have a power to arrest a person for the offence.
Section 45 established a "secure register" for company directors. Since April 2002, any Company Director, Company Secretary or partner in a limited liability partnership who is at risk of intimidation and harassment may apply to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for a Confidentiality Order that places details of their usual residential address on a secure register. Details of the home address of a Director granted a Confidentiality Order, will not appear
on the Public Register of UK Directors, but may be accessed by authorised bodies, e.g. the police or regulatory authorities. Since the Secure
Register was established, over 3,000 persons have been granted Confidentiality Orders.
Terrorism Act 2000
The Terrorism Act 2000 was introduced to provide permanent UK wide legislation and to cover all forms of terrorism by widening the definition of terrorism in the Act. There are a range of provisions in the Act which are designed to target those who engage in serious violence, endanger life or create a serious risk to the health and safety of the public for the purpose
of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.
Where people are acting together and as a result of an agreement to commit a criminal offence this can be charged as a criminal conspiracy to commit the offences.
Theft Acts 1968 and 1978
Ordering goods and services in the name of a third party is covered by the offences of obtaining goods and services by deception under the both the 1968 and 1978 Theft Acts.
Stop and search powers
Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 has been amended so that since 20th January 2004, the police have the power to stop and search for articles that could be used to commit criminal damage. Section 146 of the powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 Since 1 January 2004, courts in England and Wales have the power to ban persons convicted of any offence from driving. This is a measure which could be used by the courts when sentencing persons convicted of offences such as criminal damage, public order or harassment etc.