Public Assemblies Bill consultation
The Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill, published by the First and Deputy First Ministers on April 20th to deal with contentious parades, will encompass all public meetings, demonstrations and protests involving trade unions, political activists, community organisations and campaign groups.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and a number of trade unions have expressed concern at the scope of the proposed law.
The consultation closes at 1 pm on 14 July 2010.
Under the planned law, all gatherings involving 50 or more people in a public space will be required to give 37 days prior notification to the PSNI. Organisers will also have to specify which groups will be taking part. Failure to do so could result in jail terms of up to six months for the organisers and any participants.
An example given in the Explanatory Guide states that ‘if a group wanted to protest against the closure of a local sports facility... the group’s activity would fall under the definition of a public meeting and would therefore be subject to the notification procedures for a public assembly.’
‘Public space’ is defined in the proposals as ‘any road or footway or any other place, apart from a building, to which the public or a section of the public has access’. This would include the grounds of government and council buildings, grounds and entrances to factories, workplaces and public service establishments, such as schools and hospitals.
Protest meetings such as trade union demonstrations outside a workplace, rallies against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or solidarity vigils held to support the victims of racist attacks would all fall under the remit of the new law.