Ministers granted injunction against motorway protesters
Protestors could be jailed for contempt of court following National Highways legal action
Protestors who block roads will face tougher action under new measures being introduced by the Home Secretary.
The government – via its agency National Highways – has been granted an injunction against protestors, which will allow police to arrest and detain offenders who will then face a potential prison sentence for contempt of court.
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“Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” transport minister Grant Shapps announced via twitter this morning. “I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protestors which a judge granted last night. Effective later today, activists will face contempt of court with possible imprisonment.”
Following several days of Insulate Britain protests which have brought the M25 to a halt, Priti Patel last week announced plans to create a new offence of “public nuisance” as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, giving police “the powers to better manage such disruptive demonstrations in future”.
Over recent days multiple sections of the M25 have been brought to a standstill at peak times as environmentalist group Insulate Britain obstructed traffic, drawing criticism from the police who say the tactics risk causing injury or death The protests are reminiscent of similar traffic disruption repeatedly caused by Extinction Rebellion in London.
The group, which is campaigning for the taxpayer to fund the insulation of all social housing in Britain by 2025 and making other demands relating to eco-housing, claimed that “campaigning within the law has not worked” and that it had “no alternative” but to illegally block roads.
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While a large number of protestors have been arrested, videos on social media have also shown police standing between the offenders and the traffic without intervening, prompting criticism from groups such as the Association of British Drivers (ABD) that action was not taken swiftly.
The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) told Auto Express that tactics for dealing with protests are decided by the commander on the ground and vary depending on the individual circumstances of the protest. Police have previously used intelligence-gathering tactics to counteract planned disruptive protests.
Announcing her plans for a more uniform approach to dealing with disruptive protests, Patel said: “Peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our democracy and there will always be space for legitimate groups to make their voices heard.
“But this Government will not stand by and allow a small minority of selfish protestors to cause significant disruption to the lives and livelihoods of the hard-working majority.”
Patel said “guerilla tactics” would only detract from Insulate Britain’s ultimate cause, adding that the M25 protest was “completely unacceptable”.
She added: “The police have our full support. They must uphold the law and take decisive action.”
Hugh Bladon, co-founder of the ABD, warned that it would “certainly be the case” that more road-blocking protests would take place in future if action were not taken, and said the measures announced by the Home Secretary were “long overdue”.
He said: “I agree with Patel in that she’s doing the right thing”, but added that it would be “absolutely ridiculous” to arrest disruptive protestors and then release them without charge.
Do the police have powers to remove protesters?
At present, wilfully obstructing a public highway is an offence under the Highways Act 1980. Those found guilty can be given a maximum fine of £1,000.
Kent Police told Auto Express that when dealing with a human roadblock, officers will speak to protestors and determine how long they aim to continue. If disruption is planned for a few minutes, the police may wait it out, but longer protests have to be dealt with more actively.
The police have the power to remove protestors from the road and arrest them, but the challenge lies in ensuring no one is injured in the process. This is especially difficult when protestors physically attach themselves to surfaces or objects using glue, for example.
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