Criminalising protest

August 8, 2013

I take issue with a number of the points made by Geraldine Van Bueren in “Making waves” (Opinion, 11 July).

It is inaccurate to say that Trenton Oldfield, the Boat Race protester, did not act peacefully. If his protest had been deemed violent he would have been charged accordingly. Instead he was charged with public nuisance, an offence that in 2010 the Law Commission recommended should be abolished for being vague, outdated and often in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. The body warned that public nuisance could be used to criminalise any undesirable behaviour, including protests.

Oldfield was initially charged under Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act, which is punishable by a fine. However, after Michael Ellis, Conservative MP for Northampton North, challenged Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, about this during a Home Affairs select committee meeting, it was changed to public nuisance, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Oldfield has always maintained that he was exercising his democratic right to protest. He argues that his decision to disrupt the Boat Race stemmed from three developments that took place in the days beforehand: the coalition signed the draft communications and data bill, which if passed into law would have legalised the surveillance of all UK citizens’ digital communications; the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (which effectively privatises the NHS) received Royal Assent; and finally, a Cabinet minister, Hugh Robertson, called on the public to report their neighbours to the police if they suspected them of planning a protest at the London 2012 Olympics.

Van Bueren says it is unlikely that Oldfield will base his legal arguments against deportation on the basis of the disproportionality of the state’s reaction to his actions. But arguably this has been very disproportionate indeed: he was charged with an offence that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment when nobody including himself was injured in the course of the protest. Ultimately he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.

Finally, the last paragraph of the article is disingenuous: it conflates the fact that someone would prefer to live with his family, friends and in a place he has made his home with a smug Union Jack-waving nationalism.

Nadine El-Enany
Lecturer in law
Birkbeck, University of London

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together