Curtailing right to protest could reduce mental wellbeing

Ella Rhodes reports.

The controversial police, crime, sentencing and courts bill has been criticised by a group of more than 300 psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs and other healthcare professionals in an open letter. The group suggested that the bill would have a profound negative impact on young people’s mental health and would essentially criminalise young activists’ behaviour. 

The UK government’s bill has sparked alarm and criticism around the country with many suggesting the proposals to allow police to halt protests deemed noisy and disruptive would have a deep chilling effect on the right to protest. The BPS, along with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the British Medical Association, have also previously raised concerns that parts of the bill that would have made it mandatory for healthcare staff to share confidential patient information with the police. 

The authors of the open letter, published on the Medact charity’s website, suggested that curtailing young people’s right to protest would erode both their trust in politicians and their belief that their voices were heard. They pointed to research which has suggested young people’s mental wellbeing had already been negatively affected by a lack of action on the climate emergency and that engaging in activism could provide an antidote to despair.

‘One result of this legislation, if passed, will be that young people face a choice between being intimidated into inaction and isolation, or possibly criminalised if they choose to act. Some may deliberately choose to escalate their actions to be more disruptive and possibly violent, given the severe consequences for even minor nonviolent activity. Whichever choice they make it will have profound consequences for their mental wellbeing and the wellbeing of the wider community.’

After widespread ‘Kill the Bill’ protests, the House of Lords voted against many of the widely-criticised aspects of the proposals in January – including proposals that would have allowed police to stop and search protesters ‘without suspicion’ and those which would have made ‘locking on’, where protesters attach themselves to objects to make themselves harder to remove, a criminal offence. The lords also voted against measures to ban people from protests if they had a history of causing disruption, and suggested amendments including one that would prevent police from imposing conditions on protests that were deemed too noisy and disruptive.

The bill will now proceed back to the House of Commons for further debate before returning to the House of Lords.

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