NUJ slams SOCPA
THE GOVERNMENT recently held a consultation on "managing protest around Parliament". This grew out of a promise from incoming Prime Minister Gordon Brown to review - with a view to its repeal - the restrictions in the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.
This Act, better known as SOCPA, created a "designated area" around Parliament within which all protests were prohibited without permission first being obtained. The zone includes the Channel 4 building, New Scotland Yard, Westminster Bridge and parts of St Thomas' Hospital. Police have on occasion treated Press Card-carrying journalists reporting on protests in this zone as if they were part of unauthorised demos, and issued journalists with letters warning them they can expect a summons under SOCPA. (See the report on page 4 on one such incident affecting Marc Vallée.) The consultation on SOCPA quickly looked liked turning into an attempt to extend SOCPA-style restrictions to marches and demos all over the UK, such as giving police the right to censor the wording on protest banners.
NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear's submission to the consultation on "managing protest" was uncompromising in its opposition to SOCPA. See the full submission at http://manageprotest.notlong.com - Jeremy states that "The NUJ is opposed to measures which seek to criminalise legitimate and peaceful protest which we believe SOCPA does. This infringes the civil liberties and democratic rights of members as well as the public generally... Journalists have a right to work free from threat, harassment, arbitrary arrest or detention in the public interest and with respect for the due laws in force at any time." The police's attitude would now seem to have become "one of preventing and controlling demonstrations."
The submission lists incidents of journalists - especially photographers - being denied access to demos, being issued warnings under SOCPA, not being allowed to pass through police lines when they need to leave a demo, and being told their Press Card is "not a proper Press Card".
Please report all policing incidents - including incidents of police officers being especially courteous - online at www.londonfreelance.org/policing
- On 28 March, shortly before we went to press, the Ministry of Justice published its White Paper on constitutional renewal, which appeared to propose repeal of the SOCPA restric tions on demos in the "designated area". "Given the strength of feeling in responses to the consultation document on potential restrictions on legitimate protest," says the document, most of the restrictions on demos will be lifted, with (not yet specified) measures to be put in place to ensure Parliament can go about its business unhindered by any protests taking place in the immediate area.