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Government accepts our amendments to Bill aimed at curbing vivisection protests
Posted 1 April 2005
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill - which contains new measures aimed at protecting animal research establishments - received Royal Assent on Thursday 7th April 2005.
The good news is that, following 'emergency briefings' sent to members of the House of Lords, the Bill was significantly amended so as to reduce the possibility that peaceful protest activity will be outlawed.
Animal Aid, along with various other groups, including the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) and Liberty, had sent dossiers to peers expressing concern that the new laws had the potential to criminalise peaceful and law-abiding protest activity, such as consumer boycotts. The influential Joint Committee on Human Rights reflected these concerns after it had scrutinised the Bill to ensure that it was compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Committee was particularly concerned that consumer boycotts could potentially amount to an offence under the new law, and it concluded that the law failed to satisfy the requirements of legal certainty and that it was, additionally, likely to amount to a disproportionate interference with the right to peaceful protest. The government's response was to amend the Bill, which now states that it will not be a criminal offence in itself to induce another person to break a lawful contract. This means that consumer boycott campaigns will not be affected.
Peaceful campaigns, such as the one we carried against the construction of a primate research laboratory at Cambridge University, should also be unaffected by the new statute.
The amendment is something of an achievement both for ourselves and the BUAV. It ought to ensure that groups who protest peacefully and within the law do not run the risk of criminal prosecution. However, the new measures still give cause for serious concern. They are very broadly drafted and could still criminalise ordinary forms of protest activity such as the handing out of leaflets and speaking on a megaphone. Although the government has stated that its intention is not to ban peaceful protest, this is not reflected in the legislation itself, which continues the steady erosion in recent years of our hard-fought civil liberties.
By Simon Dally, who has provided legal representation for animal rights campaigners.
A more detailed assessment of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act will follow. For our original briefing see the Joint Committee on Human Rights report >>