Progressive sections in the UK continue to protest against the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill proposed by the Boris Johnson-led Conservative Party government in the country. On September 29, Wednesday, under the leadership of Sisters Uncut, a protest gathering was organized at Old Bailey, London, during the proceedings for the sentencing of Wayne Couzens, the police officer who was found guilty of the murderer of Sarah Everard. On September 30, the court sentenced Wayne Couzens to a whole life term in prison with no parole.
During the trial, it was revealed that Couzens abused his official power to make a false arrest before raping and murdering 33-year-old Everard on March 3, 2021. Protesters pointed out that legally bestowing more arbitrary powers on the police through the proposed bill would lead to a further deterioration of human rights and civil liberties in the country. The controversial bill is currently under the consideration of the House of Lords, the upper house of the UK parliament, and is awaiting its final reading.
Everard, a marketing executive, went missing from Clapham Common in South London on March 3. Her body’s remains were found near Ashford on March 10. A Metropolitan police officer, Couzens was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of Everard. The incident led to widespread mobilizations across the UK, demanding justice for Everard and protesting the state of women’s safety in the country. The police brutality at a peaceful vigil in honor of Everard at Clapham Common on March 13 further outraged the public. In the midst of this, the UK government introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in parliament. The bill intends to overhaul the police and criminal justice system and sentencing legislation in the country. As per activists, the bill contains provisions detrimental to the right to protest.
The bill gives substantial power to the police when it comes to regulating public gatherings and protests. The police can criminalize certain protests by terming them as “public nuisance,” and can control demonstrations by imposing start and finish timings and noise limits. Actions by even one individual can be considered as a protest under the provisions of the new bill. Non-compliance with police guidelines may result in fines of up to 2,500 pounds (USD 3458.65).
Such provisions have evoked concern and have been denounced by progressive sections. Despite widespread Kill the Bill protests and parliamentary opposition from the Labour Party, the ruling Tories managed to pass the bill in the House of Commons and it is currently in the committee stage in the House of Lords.
Regarding the protest mobilization on Wednesday, Sisters Uncut said that the “Metropolitan Police want us to believe that Wayne Couzens’ atrocities on Sarah Everard is an individual case, he is not just a bad apple – the police are an institution rotten to its core.”
“Couzens is likely to receive a long sentence, which many will hail as ‘justice’. Let us be clear: justice is not a prison sentence for a murderer. Justice is no more dead women. Justice is a support to leave violent relationships. Justice is refuges, housing, benefits, therapy, resources, care. Instead, the government is giving us increased police powers through hate crime legislation, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill,” the group added.