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GUEST, RIchard Bridge BS: Con-Dems restrict peaceful protests (14) BS: Con-Dems restrict peaceful protests 04 Dec 10

A Coalition bill published on 30 November would make it a potential criminal offence to play a musical instrument, listen to a radio or even use a mobile phone in Parliament Square Garden, without a special permit. The maximum penalty would be a 5000 fine.

The measures, which include a ban on tents, are intended to tighten control over public demonstrations in the Square. See Part 3 of the wide-ranging Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (starting from page 103 of the PDF file):

See also the Home Office summary:

Parliament Square Garden is situated within Parliament Square, on the west side of the Houses of Parliament. Peace campaigner Brian Haw has been camped there since 2001. Ministers suggested last month that they wanted to clear the area in time for the royal wedding in Westminster Abbey, which is on the south side of the Square.

The bill defines 'amplified noise equipment' in paragraph 141(4): '... any device that is designed or adapted for amplifying sound, including (but not limited to) - (a) loudspeakers, and (b) loudhailers.'

This covers many musical instruments, iPods, radios, mobile phones and even hearing aids. Their unlicensed use would be a 'prohibited activity' if a police constable or other 'authorised officer' believes that people in the vicinity 'can hear or are likely to be able to hear' them (see paras 141(2)(a) and 142(5)). iPods or hearing aids may be unlikely candidates, but instruments and mobile phone ring tones would certainly be audible.

The bill makes many significant changes to the Licensing Act, most of which are intended to tackle alcohol-related antisocial behaviour, including measures to allow local authorities to attach conditions to Temporary Events Notices.

But inevitably this would lead to an increase in the daft conditions for live music so beloved of local authorities, like St Albans whose licence conditions include restrictions on the number of performers and musical genres:

Possibly the most sinister constitutional significance is that like the much reviled and now allegedly reformed "sus" laws this bill undermines the rule of law by depending on the subjective view of a police officer. We all know some fine policemen, I am sure, but far too many appear to be of an authoritarian and vindictive bent.

It remains to be seen whether an unpowered megaphone or a rolled up newspaper (since they merely direct rather than amplify sound) will be caught under the law, and there may be a very technical argument about whether an ordinary mobile phone ring (as distinct from one that reproduces a recorded song) will be caught since it generates a new sound rather than amplifying an antecedent one.

But the sinister nature of this coalition becomes daily more apparent.

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