Serious Disruption Prevention Orders: New Powers Now In Force

Craig MacKenzie
Craig MacKenzie

Published: April 5th, 2024

5 mins read

New public order powers to prevent individuals from causing repeated serious disruption came into force on 5th April 2024.

The Government says that:

"In recent years, we have seen an increase in protest tactics that are dangerous and cause serious disruption. The Government is committed to ensuring that the hard-working public are able to go about their daily business without disruption. serious disruption prevention orders are designed to help curtail the activities of the most prolific offenders who consistently break the law, endanger themselves and others, and disrupt the public in the name of protest."

Under the Public Order Act 2023, serious disruption prevention orders will empower the police to intervene before individuals cause serious disruption for those who have previously committed protest-related offences or ignored court-imposed restrictions.

The new orders can impose a range of restraints on individuals, including preventing them from being in a particular place or area, participating in disruptive activities, or being with protest groups at given times. They can also prevent individuals from using the internet to encourage protest-related offences.

These orders can be imposed on those who have, on at least two occasions, committed protest-related offences, such as locking on or breaching the conditions of an injunction.

The court will decide the specific restrictions contained within each order, which can last up to 2 years. They can also be renewed if the person remains what the Government describes as a "threat".

The court must consider it necessary to make the order for one of the following purposes:

  • to prevent the individual from committing a protest-related offence or a protest-related breach of an injunction;

  • to prevent the individual from carrying out activities related to a protest that result in, or are likely to result in, serious disruption to two or more individuals or an organisation;

  • to prevent the individual from causing, or contributing to, the commission by any other person of a protest-related offence or a protest-related breach of an injunction, or the carrying out by any other individual of activities related to a protest that result in or are likely to result in, serious disruption to two or more individuals or an organisation;

  • to protect two or more individuals or an organisation from the risk of serious disruption arising from a protest-related offence, a protest-related breach of an injunction, or activities related to a protest.

A court may impose any prohibition or requirement to meet the above objectives.

Breach of an order can result in a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Predictive Policing?

These orders seem modelled on existing civil banning orders, such as Football Banning Orders. This means that the courts can decide whether an individual will likely cause serious future disruption. This will be on the civil standard of proof (more likely than not) rather than the criminal standard (beyond reasonable doubt).

It may concern many that these orders appear aimed at criminalising protesters and political organisers and placing them under restrictive surveillance for something they may do in the future. We are not quite in 'Minority Report' territory; however, this seems to be where we are moving.

The police surveillance needed to make these orders work in practice may include tracking individual's movements, contacts, internet use, and influence within specific groups.

Civil liberties organisation Liberty has criticised the legislation, "These measures are a shameless attempt to prevent people from being able to make their voices heard on the issues that matter most to them."

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