Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: Bishop of Bristol supports necessity of right to protest

During a debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on 17th January 2022, the Bishop of Gloucester voiced concerns regarding provisions in the bill that would restrict noise in protests:

The Lord Bishop of Bristol: The city of Bristol is a city of activists and protesters, and it has been so for a very long time, particularly at the time of the Great Reform Bill. Many protests nowadays focus on College Green, in the shadow of the cathedral; as a result, I am well aware of the passion and commitment of Bristol activists, and the very real hurt and trauma when protests are mishandled.

Often protests can be annoying, and often they are disruptive—but that is the point. Public spaces, like College Green in Bristol and Parliament Square, are places which are felt to belong to the public, and which have been places where decision-makers like us are confronted by people’s concerns.

The Church often preaches good disagreement, not least because the alternative in our own history has often had rather dire consequences. We can sometimes be guilty of thinking this is just code for respectful, quiet debate in decision chambers. But good disagreement also rests on truly listening and being confronted with truth and with pain. Such things are not always quiet, or orderly.

There is a noble history and tradition of highly disruptive and even angry demonstrations and protest within the Church. The biblical model of the prophet, rising up to rebuke, denounce and criticise was rarely quiet, and rarely popular with those in power. Christian and Jewish tradition show that being a prophet is a dangerous profession. The powerful do not protest on the streets; the powerful have no need to, since they control the levers of change in society. It is those on the outside, who have no other ability to be heard or to create the change they need, who resort to protest. In the common life of a city like Bristol, and of the nation more widely, the right to protest is essential in communicating the concerns of those who feel unheard.

Democracy is not just the ballot box; it is also about making space so that the marginalised, the minorities and the vulnerable are heard. Protests and processions are necessary, an essential aspect to democracy. I am unconvinced that the Government have made a strong enough case that the existing powers of the police are insufficient in limiting legitimate protests. I shall listen with interest to the Minister’s response, but I am minded to support several of the amendments tabled here by noble Lords.


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