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Scottish Police Powers during the Corona Crisis

As climate justice activists, we support the current lockdown and social distancing measures to protect public health as long as scientific advice deems it necessary. However, we are concerned about the implications the continued lockdown has on societal mental health, restrictions on the ability to protest and hold political gatherings, as well as potential abuse of the new police powers.

For this reason, we have started to build a coalition to discuss and monitor the police powers and their use in Scotland, and start a conversation on how they impact different communities and activists across the country.

Please get in touch with us if you would like to share your concerns, join the conversation, or highlight perspectives we have not taken into account.

Letter to the Government

As part of our efforts to highlight our concerns, we have, alongside solicitors from the Legal Services Agency, Extinction Rebellion Scotland and the Scottish Activist Legal Project, sent a letter to Michael Russel MSP regarding concerns around the abuse of police powers to marginalised groups, and the impact of the Coronavirus Bill on political activity in the medium and long term.

The Scottish government is due to review this legislation every 21 days. This letter was submitted to meet the first review which took place on 16th April.

While we recognise that public health is priority and support lockdown and social distancing measures as longs as scientific evidence shows it is necessary, we highlighted our concerns around

  • Ways these powers could be used to prevent protest, especially in light of the exit plans discussed by the government discussing lifting the bans on evictions, but still not allowing for physical protests

  • Unfair and discriminatory use of powers against groups typically most at risk of police violence, including people of colour, disabled people, LGBTQIA+ and working class people

We call for the government to review how this new legislation is impacting political activities including:

  • Recognising that the regulations as they stand constitute ‘a blanket ban on protests and political gatherings in Scotland’, which needs to be understood and reviewed by the government accordingly

  • For the medium term, establishing a structure in order to enable key political gatherings and protests – even if this means they have capped numbers or social distancing measures in place

We also asked for transparency about use of enforcement powers and penalties, including:

  • Clarify what precise powers have been given to Police Scotland, so that police officers do not have discretion in how to use them

  • How is the government monitoring the use of the new police powers to ensure that the police do not act outwith powers given to them by regulations? – e.g. attempting to enforce government guidance in the absence of any relevant legal authority to do so

  • How is the government making sure that the police does not carry out disproportionate enforcement against marginalised groups and communities?

  • When and how is the Scottish Government planning to publish data on

    • The use of Police Scotland enforcement powers under the regulations

    • How many fixed penalty notices have been issued by police officers so far under the regulations

    • How many offences have been committed that fall under the regulations

    • A breakdown of the data with reference to “protected characteristics” under the Equality Act

To this date, we have received no response from the Scottish government. The full letter can be found here:

Letter to Michael Russell MSP - 14 April
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