Shock news: People weren’t arrested outside parliament yesterday.
Indeed, a group of carol singers, who were previously threatened with arrest under the Serious Organised Crimes and Police Act, were allowed to wassail unmolested in Parliament Square.
The law bans demonstrating without police permission within a half mile radius of the Palace of Westminster, as Maya Evans, one of last night’s carollers, found out recently when she was arrested outside Downing Street for reading out the names of those soldiers killed to date in Iraq. However, no such fate awaited her in Parliament Square last night.
The Act in question is due to come fully into force in April, with the formation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) to replace the National Crime Squad and National Criminal Intelligence Service. M.P.s spent two days in a Committee Room last week, simply correcting typing errors, and the Act looks to be another piece of legislation being rushed through the Commons by the government. Whilst the carollers should technically be treated as demonstrators under the Act, someone in the police force showed some common sense, and decided to turn a blind eye.
Funnily enough, the only caroller who is exempt from the reaches of the Act is Brian Haw, the guy who has been demonstrating in Parliament Square for four years now. There was a clause put into the legislation specifically to remove the “serious organised criminal” Haw from outside the front gate of the Palace. However, the High Court ruled that Mr. Haw’s protest pre-dates the legislation, and is therefore exempt from it. So whether the Act envisaged the other carollers being carted off down the nick whilst Haw sang a solo rendition of In the Bleak Midwinter, we will never know.
The 100 or so carol singers’ point that the new law is too vague was well made last night. But they could have chosen a better time: Parliament is now in recess for two weeks, so there were very few, if any, decision makers there to hear their carols and indeed their message. It was the equivalent of singing to an empty room.
Image taken from Stefz Flickr stream under the Creative Commons licence.