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Environmental Crisis and Civil Rights

In his latest article for Legal Action Group, Mike Schwarz, Partner and protest law expert, examines how the UK’s failure to tackle the ecological crises is also stirring up trouble for public order, civil liberties and the constitution’s legitimacy. A shortened extract from the article has been reproduced below:

UN Climate Change Conference (COP26)

The upcoming UN conference on climate change, due to be held in Glasgow on 31 October – 12 November 2021, has the objective of ‘uniting the world to tackle climate change’. However, hope and words are not enough. Action is required, now – yesterday, in fact. Unfortunately, for many, the current UK government’s track record is as reckless as it is worrying as it is duplicitous. Something is surely very wrong when, as recently as June, even the official Climate Change Committee concluded that the UK is failing to match climate rhetoric with action.

Whilst ordinary citizens can help by changing their lifestyles, the strength of the fossil fuel industry ensures that responsibility lies largely with governments and businesses to make collective change for the benefit of humanity as a whole. It is, therefore, important that citizens should have the right to campaign for that agreement and action.

The right to protest

Freedoms of expression and assembly under articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights are there for a reason. They allow citizens to express their very personality, politics and individuality, and to come together with others with a like mind with the aim of bringing others around to their views. Protest can be one of the purest and most accountable expressions of democracy – if, by democracy, one means the influencing of decision-makers with power by those without privilege.

However, whilst The Home Office acknowledge that ‘freedom of expression is a cornerstone of British democracy’, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, described by one opponent as being ‘not about law and order’ but ‘about state control’, is the antithesis of this notion. The bill, a response to the blossoming Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement in recent years, is just the final stage of a hackneyed choreography that has culminated, every 10 years or so, in seminal public order legislation – new police powers and criminal offences…

To read the full article, in which Mike considers the importance of the right to protest, the impact of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the state’s use of covert measures and force in stifling freedom of assembly, police visit the Legal Action Group website.