Joint letter to Members of the House of Lords

House of Lords vote on secondary legislation to change the definition of "serious disruption to the life of the community" on 13 June 2023. Read the Joint letter from 49 organisations.
  Published:  09 Jun 2023    |      3 minute read

Dear Member of the House of Lords,

We are writing to ask you to support the motion tabled by Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb to not approve the Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023.

The past two years have already seen two major and highly contested Acts which have transformed the framework of public order legislation. The Statutory Instrument (SI) now before parliament would amend the Public Order Act 1986 using controversial broad powers granted to the Home Secretary by the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (PCSC Act) to change the definition of "serious disruption" – the threshold for the police to impose conditions on protest marches and assemblies.

The same measure was rightly previously rejected by Peers as an amendment to the recent Public Order Act 2023. The government is now using secondary legislation in an unprecedented way to bring these measures into law, further restricting the right to protest and free speech.

Reducing the definition of "serious disruption" from "significant delay" and "prolonged disruption" to "hindrance", "delay" and "disruption" that is merely "more than minor", could bring almost any possible protest activity within the threshold of the Public Order Act 1986 for the police to impose conditions.

The penalty for breaching such conditions was increased by the PCSC Act and it became possible for a person to be prosecuted even if they weren't aware of the existence of the conditions, merely that they ought to have known about them. These changes were highly controversial and opposed by significant proportions of civil society and the public. This SI would go even further and give the police – and therefore the state – almost total discretion over which public protests are allowed to proceed, when and in what form. This extreme and chilling measure would mark yet another significant shift in public order policing even beyond the huge expansion of powers, offences and increased penalties contained in the two recent Acts.

The wording of the SI would now see common protest activities captured by public order legislation that have previously been lawful and that parliament has not considered restricting. Week in and week out communities, charities, unions and campaigning groups organise protests in towns, cities and villages which might in future be considered by the police to cause "more than minor" delay, hindrance or disruption. It will become almost impossible to give certainty to members of the public who wish to take part in protests of practically any kind, that it will not be subject to police conditions that they could face arrest for unknowingly breaching. This will deter the public from exercising a fundamental democratic right, which has so often been used to improve our society and environment for the better.

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has drawn special attention to the SI for raising constitutional issues. It is the first time a government has attempted to use secondary legislation to reintroduce measures that have already been recently rejected by parliament in primary legislation. It has not consulted civil society and those who organise protests to understand the threat this change poses to our activities and the right of the public, our members and supporters to speak out and protest about the issues that matter to them and affect their lives.

We are opposed to these changes and urge you to support Baroness Jones motion to not approve the Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023.

Yours sincerely,

Hugh Knowles and Miriam Turner, Co-Executive Directors, Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)

Stephanie Draper, Chief Executive, Bond

Tom Brake, Director, Unlock Democracy

Louise Hazan, Co-founder, Tipping Point

Estelle Du Boulay, Director, Rights of Women

Nick Dearden, Director, Global Justice Now

Julie Williams, Chief Executive, Butterfly Conservation

Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive, Amnesty International UK

Zara Mohammed, Secretary-General, Muslim Council of Britain

Nabil Berbour, Campaign Director Europe, Ekō

Mark Kieran, Director, Fair Vote UK

Asad Rehman, Executive Director, War on Want

Dame Sara Llewellin, Chief Executive, Barrow Cadbury Trust

Shane Tomlinson, Co-CEO, E3G

Martin Drewry, Director, Health Poverty Action

Tessa Khan, Executive Director, Uplift

Chris Butler-Stroud, CEO, Whale and Dolphin Conservation

Shameem Ahmad, Chief Executive, Public Law Project

Rebecca Shaeffer, Global Legal Director, Fair Trials


Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy and Communications, CAFOD

Jonathan Cohen, Executive Director, Conciliation Resources

Imogen Mcintosh, CEO, Aid Box Community

Sarah Vibert, Chief Executive, National Council for Voluntary Organisations

Sue Tibballs, Chief Executive, Sheila McKechnie Foundation

Chris Luffingham, Director of Advocacy, League Against Cruel Sports

Melissa Green, Chief Executive, The Women’s Institute (WI)

Kit Stoner, Chief Executive, Bat Conservation Trust

Nic Hailey, Executive Director, International Alert

Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Peter Herbert OBE, Chair, Society of Black Lawyers

Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary, Open Spaces Society

Sophie Neuburg, Executive Director, Medact

Jane Ide, Chief Executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO)

Pete Kent, Programme Development Director, Railway Children

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain

Catherine Pettengell, Executive Director, Climate Action Network UK (CAN-UK)

Silkie Carlo, Director, Big Brother Watch

Katie Fallon, Advocacy Manger and Director, Campaign Against Arms Trade

Akiko Hart, Interim Director, Liberty

Emma Bridge, Chief Executive, Community Energy England

Natasha Tsangarides, Associate Director of Advocacy, Freedom from Torture

Bronwen Smith-Thomas, Interim Co-Director, The Climate Coalition

Julian Tait, CEO, Open Data Manchester CIC

Tahir Latif, Secretary, Greener Jobs Alliance

Andrea Simon, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition

Fiona Rutherford, Chief Executive, JUSTICE

Amy McDonnell, Co-Director, Zero Hour

Nicolò Wojewoda, Europe Regional Director,