From 28 June 2022, the police in England and Wales have new powers to deal with trespassers and protestors under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (“the Act”).
The Act covers protestor activity, giving the police the power to impose conditions on a protest march which might cause:
Significant delay to the delivery of a time-sensitive product to that product’s consumers
Prolonged disruption of access to any essential goods or services (eg. the supply of money, food, water, energy, or fuel)
Serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried on in the vicinity of the protest march, due to noise
Intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress to people in the area of the protest march
In addition to the Act, the Energy Security Bill, published on 6 July 2022, includes a plan to curtail fuel protests and:
“Bring forward measures for downstream oil (fuel) security, covering sites such as oil terminals and filling stations, to prevent fuel supply disruption, including from industrial action, malicious protest and for reasons of national security.”
Trespass and protestors continue to be a difficult and expensive problem for many landowners and with the threat of a summer of unrest it may be that these powers will come into their own and we note with interest the attempt to balance the right to protest with the acknowledgement of the disruption this can cause.
Key takeaway: our experience is that police resource is already stretched and so it may be that owners and occupiers of land remain at the forefront of managing this risk, especially where that comes from well advised and resourced protest groups.
The provisions on trespass follow the Home Office announcement last year, about dealing with unauthorised travellers, which we previewed here.
The Act creates a new offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”. For the first time, unauthorised camps on highways are covered.
The new offence is committed if someone sets up camp unlawfully, with a vehicle, on another person’s land, and refuses to leave, when asked by the police or the landowner. The penalty for refusal to leave is up to three months in prison, a fine of up to £2,500 and/or seizure of the vehicle.
Key takeaway: the key takeaway from the new legislation is that, for the first time, it is now a criminal offence to engage in these activities.
Under new guidance, the harms potentially caused by unauthorised encampments could include:
excessive littering, noise or smell (including bonfire smoke)
a local resident being verbally abused or intimidated
local communities being prevented from accessing sports fields, parks or car parks
damage to property on the land, or to the land itself