Another Tory party conference, another round of law ‘n’ order announcements. Some are just aimed at getting the blue-rinse buy-to-let brigade out of their seats into a standing ovation, others perhaps a little more sinister. But what impact will Priti Patel and Dominic Raab’s latest moves actually have?
There are two main headline grabbing targets, “irresponsible crusties” gluing themselves to motorways and foreigners arriving in boats. Proposals to control and deter channel crossings are as vague as they ever have been, partly due to this governments’ requirement to pay at least lip service to international law regarding rescue at sea. Domestically however the teeth have been bared.
Extinction Rebellion and their spin off group, the road blocking rockwool enthuisiasts of Insulate Britain, are the named targets of the new crackdown, (although of course once passed any legislation will inevitably be imposed more broadly). Raising the penalty for wilful obstruction of the highway to six months imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine probably won’t see many behind bars for a long stretch but it will enable the courts to remand people for long enough to prevent them from joining in a series of rolling blockades. However this does play directly into old loft lag Roger Hallam’s master plan* for creating martyrs through imprisonment and thereby radicalising the moderates.
Speaking of which, the state has abandoned the tired old label of “domestic extremist” with its unfortunate whiff of SpyCops and state sanctioned abuse of women and replaced it with an all new and equally vague idea of “aggravated activist”. Despite lack of real clarity around what an aggravated activist actually is the justice secretary has dreamed up the concept of Criminal Disruption Prevention Orders (CDPOs) to combat them.
CDPOs are another development in the hybridisation of criminal and civil law that began under Blair that gave us control orders, ASBOs, football banning orders and injunctions protecting corporations under the Protection from Harassment Act. What all these processes have in common is that criminal sanctions can be imposed on a civil standard of proof (balance of probablities). They grant the courts powers to regulate an individuals life to point of house arrest; with curfews, rules on places to avoid, people not to see, programmes to engage with, social media not to use etc etc with, and this is the kicker, criminal sanctions including prison for lack of compliance. The far reaching implications of this can be seen clearly with the impact on young Black lives of the Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPOs) as acts that are not regularly criminalised are punished under the criminal law.
When ASBOs were first introduced it was warned that they might be used against political campaigners to stifle dissent. Of course they were, the targets mainly being animal rights activists. CDPOs are by design aimed at political campaigners. If CDPOs are in any way similar to KCPOs they could be imposed even without the target having a conviction, preventing them from travelling , speaking in public or putting them under curfew for (in the words of the National Council of Police Chiefs) “activity that seeks to bring about political or social change but does so in a way that involves unlawful behaviour or criminality, has a negative impact upon community tensions, or causes an adverse economic impact to businesses.” (emphasis ours). Who will collect theirs first?
While the CDPOs do look like a viable instrument of repression, threats to increase the applicability of Section 60 “no suspiscion” stops and searches to include equipment used for non violent direct actions are slightly less alarming. While section 60s are likely to continue to facilitate racial profiling in policing, their extension to climate activists won’t change a lot on the ground. Blanket stop and search has been a feature of the policing of climate camps and XRs Rebellions for over a decade.
Attracting slightly less attention have the plans to massively extend tagging. When tagging was first rolled out it was a crude way of imposing a curfew. Between certain hours you had to be in the vicinity of the radio base, plugged into the landline and that was that. The new proposals aim to take full advantage of current technology with GPS tags able to pinpoint your exact whereabouts, meaning that it will be far easier to tailor an exact set of conditions for each subject. This of course would dovetail beautifully with the kind of civil control orders proposed. Tags have been proposed that will sample skin for traces of alcohol, presumably drugs and keywords can’t be far behind.
These conference announcements aren’t even fleshed out proposals yet. It’s no surprise that legislation on dissent and social control grows ever more draconian. So far, despite a promising start with the Kill the Bill campaign as a focus for the civil liberties struggle we are losing ground. There are some promising shoots e.g Sisters Uncut proposal for a CopWatch patrols but Kill the Bill has not transformed into a mass movement and Insulate Britain number around 500 people.
Time for another cut out ‘n’ keep rabble rousing appeal to get out there on the streets and fight before we lose ? Yeah thought so.
*we advise at least phoning a friend before gluing yourself to the carriageway
Image: Insulate Britain protest, by Guy Smallman.