Feb 11, 2015
Human rights activists fear the right to protest in the UK might be put under threat, following claims from environmental advocates that they are in effect being forced to pay for their right to protest.
The Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) says that it has been ordered to hire private security to oversee the group’s London protest on March 7, with the demonstration – tipped to draw a crowd of 20,000 people – expected to now cost thousands of pounds at the expense of organisers.
Despite police previously taking care of protest-related traffic issues, the organisers of the ‘Time to Act’ march have been told that officers will no longer be responsible for the temporary closure of roads along the planned route, following negotiations with the Metropolitan police and London authorities.
Tighter policing budgets and new interpretations of traffic rules have been cited as the reasons behind the decision of the police.
This means that the campaigners will now be responsible for devising a traffic management plan, outlining how the event will be managed to ensure the safety of those in attendance.
They will also be responsible for hiring trained security officers who will oversee the plan, with estimates suggesting the costs will run into the thousands.
The Westminster council has also said that it won’t allow for the closure of the roads in Central London until an adequate traffic management plan has been submitted.
The decision has drawn widespread criticism from activist groups and human rights advocates, who say that making people effectively pay to set up a protest sets a dangerous precedent.
James Welch, Legal Director at human rights group Liberty, said the actions go against the basic right to protest.
“The police, councils and GLA shouldn’t be impeding protest by imposing conditions that a march organiser can’t comply with, or by bickering over whose responsibility it is to close roads. Protest is an important democratic right. Public authorities should be facilitating peaceful protest, not obstructing it.”
Meanwhile, Christine Haigh, energy and climate campaigner from activist group Global Justice Now, co-organisers of the event, said that the so-called “privatisation of protest” is a worrying trend that will only widen social divides.
“Trying to make people pay to protest sets a disturbing new precedent in the erosion of civil liberties in the UK."
We already have a political system where corporate cash buys influence with decision makers, now are we moving towards a protest culture where only the rich are able to pay for the privilege of taking to the streets to exercise their right to protest.
“Maybe if the police were to cut back on the enormous amounts of money they have spent on using undercover agents to infiltrate the climate movement in the UK, they might not be so financially grudging now about facilitating people protesting about the changing climate and our extortionate energy bills — some of the most important issues facing us today.”