Handling protest (2 of 3)
A note following evidence to the JC on Human Rights, 23 October 2008
Lord Lester asked me whether I approved of protest against the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968. I should have said that I can’t remember ever having argued against the right to peaceful, controlled protest. If Lord Lester was asking whether the protest was even more legitimate because it was against a rushed Bill, I should have replied that it was a popular Bill which answered a considerable national swell of opinion and was supported by HM’s Opposition. A quick Google doesn’t show me evidence that protest against the Act was problematic. (Indeed, protest against the 1962 Immigration Act seemed dignified.) Anyway, no, I don’t object to the protest.
Lord Lester asked me if I agreed with the House of Lords 1998 decision on the Shoreham protests.
My answer should have been that I can’t disagree with the law Lords that the Chief Constable had a legal obligation to balance the right to trade against the difficulty of enforcing it. As a legal matter, I can’t argue with the Law Lords that the Chief Constable was within his rights balance things the way he did.
I should have added that in the case of HLS and other set piece protests with a potential for violence we seem to have learned better ways of allowing protest whilst avoiding flashpoints.
I stick by my statement that ideally the protests should have been banned, so as to avoid their continuing to degenerate into violence. I should have added that alternative opportunities for banned protest always have to be put in place.
Evan Harris asked me how my notion that much protest was aimed at upstaging Parliament survived cases such as protest during a State Visit by Chinese leaders. I got into a muddle.
I should have said, in passing, that a pavement parade to welcome a state guest is a legitimate opportunity for people to express a dissenting view. The more dignity and wit they bring to their protest, the better.
I should more importantly have added that I don’t mean to imply that all protest upstages Parliament nor that upstaging Parliament de-legitimises protest nor that protest that doesn’t upstage Parliament is necessarily more valuable. My argument is that in a parliamentary democracy no protest has the right to be an uncontrolled nuisance.