This a belated update on what’s happened with the criminal case of friend of CEM Stephen Gingell l, which we posted about here as he was facing 6 months in jail for slow marching on the A41 in North West London.
Stephen was thankfully bailed before Christmas and has been receiving support from the Good Law Project to fund an appeal to his sentence.
Section 7 of the Public Order Act 2023 bans any action that interferes with the use of any key national infrastructure in England and Wales, including printing presses, power plants, oil and gas extraction or distribution sites. However, it seems that this law is being used to deter the most conventional and historic forms of protest against a government such as marching down a road. Exactly the type of protest that is celebrated as part of Manchester’s ‘radical’ history and identity as a city (Peterloo and the Suffragettes are part of the canon). This crackdown on climate protesters has been recently highlighted by UN special rapporteur on environmental defenders Michel Forst as “regressive”. Here’s a short section of the UN press release related to Stephen’s case:
During my visit, however, I learned that, in the UK, peaceful protesters are being prosecuted and convicted under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, for the criminal offence of “public nuisance”, which is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. I was also informed that the Public Order Act 2023 is being used to further criminalize peaceful protest. In December 2023, a peaceful climate protester who took part for approximately 30 minutes in a slow march on a public road was sentenced to six months imprisonment under the 2023 law.
That case is currently on appeal, but it is important to highlight that, prior to these legislative developments, it had been almost unheard of since the 1930s for members of the public to be imprisoned for peaceful protest in the UK. I am therefore seriously concerned by these regressive new laws.
What to do?
While impotent rage and disgust may come naturally in response to this injustice and the oppressive laws, we think there are a few practical things that could be done locally to support Stephen and ensure those in power in Manchester do not wash their hands of these democratic breaches:
- A motion the at the Full Council of Manchester City Council disapproving of the use of Section 7 of the Public Order Act 2023 to deter marches on roads as a meaningful form protest would be a good start. You could play your part in this by writing to your local councillors and asking them if they would draft or support such a motion.
- Writing to your local MP to highlight this case and also asking if they would support a repeal of the Public Order Act 2023 if they were in government (assuming you live in a non-Tory area).
- Writing to the GM Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Kate Green to highlight the case and ask her for a commitment that GMP would not similarly arrest protesters marching in the city region using this law.
p.s. if you want to learn more about how the UK Courts are being used to oppress environmental defenders it’s worth listening to the Drilled podcast.