Whilst it is absolutely clear that the primary target of the highly controversial Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is Extinction Rebellion, it is also absolutely clear that this law has also specifically been written to curtail the activities of individuals and groups protesting on the ground against HS2 and the activities of HS2 Ltd.
In some ways, we should see this as a massive compliment, as it is the second time a law has been written specifically aimed at Stop HS2, following the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act” of 2014, which was seen by many as a direct attempt to stop campaigning during the 2015 General Election by three groups: The National Union of Students, 38 Degrees, and Stop HS2.
The point of the 2014 Act, or the “Gagging Bill” as we put it at the time was quite simple, to stop those saying awkward things that might influence how people vote from being able to say those awkward things in the run up to elections.
Right now, the same thing is happening. The Government has realised that the laws as they exist which cover protests about HS2, and especially those around active construction sites aren’t as draconian as they would like. You know, the problem is that protestors who haven’t really done anything bad keep getting arrested and then get let out again, there’s this whole problem with things like having to prove offences ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in the absence of injunctions, and when there are injunctions there’s this whole rigmarole with having to make sure people, or ‘persons unknown’ know that these injunctions exist. And even then, are judges really going to send peaceful protectors, who’ve probably been roughed up by the National Eviction Team to prison for ‘contempt of court’, which is what breaking an injunction actually counts as?
With all this in mind, someone in the Government came up with the idea that it would be so much easier if they could just say; “Right, no protesting within, say 200 yards of any HS2 construction site, not knowing you can’t do that is no defence and you get jail time.”
Because believe me, if this Bill gets passed as it stands the very first order, the very first order that will be made will be: “No protests anywhere near HS2. We don’t care if you’re a landowner who hasn’t been paid so you’re blocking access to land we weren’t meant to take, or someone holding up a banner at the roadside saying we’re cutting down trees we said we wouldn’t, or if you are living up that tree to stop us cutting it down, we don’t care, it’s the same thing. You are in our way, it’s not allowed, and you are going down.”
And all of you out there who have been dealing with HS2 Ltd over all these years know that this is exactly what they would do, because they’d be doing it now if they could. In fact they are doing some of it now, they just don’t have the powers and punishments they want.