Coronation: 'Draconian' new protest laws come into force today

Controversial measures in Public Order Bill came into effect just days before thousands of people are expected to protest the coronation

Police officers arrest an activisit from the group Just Stop Oil after they blocked a road in London, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, demanding to stop future gas and oil projects from going ahead. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Police officers arrest an activist from Just Stop Oil in October. The authorities now have new powers to tackle protesters. (AP Photo)

'Draconian' anti-protest laws that bolster police officers' powers to tackle protesters have been rolled out ahead of King Charles's coronation on Saturday.

The controversial new measures in the Public Order Bill came into effect just days before thousands of people are expected to take to the streets to protest the coronation, in what many critics have

Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive Sacha Deshmukh told Yahoo News UK: "With the Government increasingly intolerant of nearly all protest, this weekend will be an important test of whether peaceful protests are even now possible amid draconian new anti-protests laws and highly interventionist police forces.

“Those who wish to publicly register their disapproval of the monarchy and of King Charles ought to be able to do so without fear of arrest or indeed of violence from bystanders on the streets.

“There must be no repeat of last year’s heavy-handed police reaction to peaceful protests in the aftermath of the Queen’s death. The UK has a long and proud history of street protest and this should be facilitated this weekend alongside the celebrations.”

FILE - Britain's King Charles III inspects the 200th Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Sovereign's Parade and presents the new Colours and Sovereign's Banner to the receiving Ensigns in Camberley, England, Friday, April 14, 2023. King Charles III will be crowned Saturday, May 6, 2023 at Westminster Abbey in an event full of all the pageantry Britain can muster. (Dan Kitwood/Pool Photo via AP, File)
King Charles gave his royal assent to the bill on Tuesday, with his coronation being described as a "test" of the police's new powers to tackle protesters. (AP)

The new rules, which were given royal assent by King Charles on Tuesday, include up to 12 months in prison for protesters blocking roads, airports and railways, and up to six months behind bars for protesters "locking on" to others, objects or buildings.

The former shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, highlighted issues with the new rules, including the broad term "locking on".

"During the passage of this illiberal and headline-grabbing legislation, ministers admitted that the new offence of ‘locking on’ is so broad as to catch peaceful protesters who link arms in public," she told The Guardian.

Read more: Just Stop Oil to march near Westminster Abbey every day until King’s Coronation

Critics have also questioned the timing of the rules coming into effect - just days ahead of the coronation - when they were initially set to be rolled out in June following disruptive protests by groups such as Just Stop Oil. However, the Home Office reportedly described the timing as a coincidence.

In a statement, home secretary Suella Braverman said: "The public shouldn’t have their daily lives ruined by so called ‘eco-warriors’ causing disruption and wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer money.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 02, 2023: Secretary of State for the Home Department Suella Braverman arrives in Downing Street to attend the weekly Cabinet meeting in London, United Kingdom on May 02, 2023. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Home secretary Suella Braverman said the powers would be used to deal with a "selfish minority" of protesters. (Getty Images)

"The selfish minority must not be allowed to get away with this. We are giving our police and courts the tools they need to stop this chaos and I back them in making full use of these powers."

Although the government has suggested the timing is a coincidence, protest groups said they had been reminded of the new rules in a "very odd" letter from the Home Office's Police Powers Unit.

Read more: Coronation protesters sent 'intimidatory' letter by Home Office

According to campaign group Republic, the letter reminded protesters of the new measures, listing the new criminal offences and adding: "I would be grateful if you could publicise and forward this letter to your members who are likely to be affected by these legislative changes".

Republic's Graham Smith said the letter was "intimidatory", adding: "We've been liaising closely with the police about the protest for weeks - we've had meetings with them.

"They've said very clearly that they have no problems with our plans. I just can't understand why the Home Office thinks it's appropriate to send a letter like that, which was anonymous in terms of no person's name on it."

The Home Office declined to comment on the letter.