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Monday, November 27, 2006

The power and the glory

Surely even the Police must realise that their latest demand to be able to arrest protesters for causing offence through the words they chant and the slogans on their placards and headbands is a step too far. Their justification that there is a "growing national and international perception" that the police have been too soft on extremist protesters, which has led to rising anger across the country is just too lame for words.

They argue: "The result has been to create an imbalance in public perception that is manifesting itself in passionate responses from elements of the community not traditionally given to publicly protesting. What we are seeing in effect is a rise in the politicisation of middle England and the emergence of a significant challenge for capital city policing."

Their proposal says that "There must be a clear message that we will not allow any extremist group to display banners or make public statements that clearly cause offence within the existing law."

There is a famous 'Not the Nine O'Clock News' sketch in which a policeman is carpeted by his superior for persistently arresting a black man because he considered that the victim was 'looking at him in a funny way'. Is this the sort of policing we are now being offered?

The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, is quite right when she says that the proposal "misunderstands the nature of law and free expression in a democracy and casts the police as censors in chief. It aims to protect people from 'offence' rather than harm, slates the CPS and muses wildly on 'public perceptions'."

The Police already have sufficient powers to arrest those people who are considered to be causing an incitement to civil disorder, violence or racial hatred. To add a new offence to that list would undermine the very basis of free speech and place the Police as judge and jury over our freedoms and our democratic rights. Even extremists have the right to peacefully state their views, that is the basis of democracy. It is bad enough that we can no longer peacefully gather to express our views outside the British Parliament without that restriction being extended to cover the whole country.

These sorts of powers are inappropriate and unnecessary. They would become the paving stones of a police state and an excuse to suppress dissent whereever it rears its head. The worrying thing is that they might prove attractive to an increasingly beleaguered New Labour Government. They would do well to remember that one day the boot will be on the other foot.
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