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Protests legislation must be ‘workable’ and ‘practical’ says Welsh lead

17 January 2023

Legislation giving police new powers to intervene before protests become highly disruptive must be ‘workable’ and ‘practical’ for the officers who have to enforce it, Police Federation Welsh lead Nicky Ryan has warned.

Nicky spoke out after the Government confirmed new measures aimed at clamping down on tactics used by groups like Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion would be considered in Parliament.

She said it was important that the Police Federation was involved in any discussions about new laws surrounding protests

Nicky told BBC Radio Wales: “We would hope as part of the creation of new legislation, and before it gets put on the statute book, the Police Federation would be consulted to ensure it is both practical and workable for those who police it.

“There is going to be no extra funding available and no extra officers to deal with the additional demand and, if we refer back the police pay and morale survey which came out last week, 66 per cent of officers in Wales already state their workload is too high.”

Nicky said existing laws on protests had already been updated within the last year as part of the of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill  and often left officers having to make split-second judgements in extremely tense situations.

“Police officers on the ground making snap decisions in very difficult situations are being asked to interpret what is often quite loose terminology and it is a very, very difficult position for them to be in,” she said.

“I think people also need to be aware that this legislation will not break up protests any more quickly. There is also a suggestion that policing can take preventative action against protesters but again it remains to be seen how that is going to play out.

“Officers who police protests have to take multiple factors into consideration when it comes to risks and safety and the risks are not only to the public but also to the protesters and to the officers themselves.

“Each situation is different and the tactical advisers who deal with these protests will individually risk-assess and individually monitor each one as a totally different scenario.”

The latest proposals, backed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, come after police chiefs warned there was too much uncertainty over what can be currently classed as ‘serious disruption’ under existing laws.

According to Downing Street, under the proposed changes, police would not need to wait for disruption to take place and could shut demonstrations down before they escalate.

Officers would not need to treat a series of protests by the same group as standalone incidents, but would be able to consider their total impact.

They would also be able to take into consideration long-running campaigns designed to cause repeat disruption over a period of days or weeks.

Nicky said she understood the frustration of members of the public but warned the proposed measures were unlikely to make a huge difference to the speed in which protests were brought to an end.

She said: “Frequently after these protests there is a flurry on social media saying ‘Why didn’t the police do this? Why didn’t the police do that?’.

“But police officers have a duty to protect everybody at those scenes and whatever your thoughts on the protesters and whatever your thoughts on their actions, this legislation is not going to speed up those tactics.

“Let’s not forget that when police officers are off-duty we are members of the public so when the public get disrupted by these protests we get disrupted by these protests as well.

“There is pressure to move the protests on but there is also pressure to do it safely.”