Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005
The Serious Organized Crime and Police Act 2005 (c.15) (often abbreviated to SOCPA) is an Act
Act of Parliament
An Act of Parliament is a statute enacted as primary legislation by a national or sub-national parliament. In the Republic of Ireland the term Act of the Oireachtas is used, and in the United States the term Act of Congress is used.In Commonwealth countries, the term is used both in a narrow...

 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 aimed primarily at creating the Serious Organised Crime Agency
Serious Organised Crime Agency
The Serious Organised Crime Agency is a non-departmental public body of the Government of the United Kingdom under Home Office sponsorship...

, it also significantly extended and simplified the powers of arrest of a constable and introduced restrictions on protests in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons...

. It was introduced into the House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 on 24 November 2004 and was passed by Parliament and given Royal Assent on 7 April 2005.

Measures to introduce a specific offence of "incitement to religious hatred" were included in early drafts of the Act, but then dropped so the bill would pass before the UK general election, 2005. (The offence has since been created as the Racial and Religious Hatred Act
Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006
The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which creates an offence in England and Wales of inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion...


Extent of application

The Act applies only to England and Wales except where s.179 increases the extent or designates sections applying only to Scotland and/or Northern Ireland; additionally s.179(9) extends the application of four sections (ss.172, 173, 177, 178) beyond the United Kingdom to the Channel Islands
Channel Islands
The Channel Islands are an archipelago of British Crown Dependencies in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. They include two separate bailiwicks: the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey...

 and the Isle of Man
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man , otherwise known simply as Mann , is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, within the British Isles. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is...


Changes to powers of arrest (England and Wales)

The Act introduced changes to the powers of arrest
An arrest is the act of depriving a person of his or her liberty usually in relation to the purported investigation and prevention of crime and presenting into the criminal justice system or harm to oneself or others...

 utilised by both "constables" and "other persons" in England and Wales. The term arrestable offence
Arrestable offence
Arrestable offence is a legal term now obsolete in English law and the legal system of Northern Ireland, but still used in the legal system of the Republic of Ireland. The Criminal Law Act 1967 introduced the category to replace the ancient term felony...

 ceased to have effect as, bar a few preserved exemptions, one power of arrest now applies to all offences when the arrest is made by a constable. Where the threshold of an arrestable offence was previously used to enable specific powers of search or powers to delay certain entitlements, these powers are preserved, but the threshold is changed to that of an indictable offence
Indictable offence
In many common law jurisdictions , an indictable offence is an offence which can only be tried on an indictment after a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is a prima facie case to answer or by a grand jury...


Subject to an overriding requirement that an arrest is reasonably required and that no less intrusive way of advancing the investigation is reasonably available, (the "Necessity Test"):
the constable may arrest without a warrant anyone who is about to or is in the act of committing an offence, or anyone they have reasonable grounds to suspect of committing or being about to commit an offence. They may also arrest anyone they have reasonable grounds to believe is guilty of an offence they suspect has been committed. These powers to arrest only apply if one or more of the following reasons apply:
  1. To enable the name of the person in question to be ascertained (in the case where the constable does not know, and cannot readily ascertain, the person's name, or has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given by the person as his name is his "real name")
  2. As reason 1 but in respect of the person's address
  3. To prevent the person in question:
    • Causing physical injury to themselves or any other person
    • Suffering physical injury
    • Causing loss of or damage to property
    • Committing an offence against public decency (but only where members of the public going about their normal business cannot reasonably be expected to avoid the person in question)
    • Causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway
  4. To protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person being arrested
  5. To allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person being arrested
  6. To prevent any prosecution for the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person being arrested

Given the scope of the last two provisions, a new Code of Practice
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is an Act of Parliament which instituted a legislative framework for the powers of police officers in England and Wales to combat crime, as well as providing codes of practice for the exercise of those powers. Part VI of PACE required the Home Secretary...

 was issued for guidance.

These changes were enacted on 1 January 2006.

Protests near Parliament

The Act is controversial primarily for sections 132 to 138, which restrict the right to demonstrate within a "designated area" of up to one kilometre
The kilometre is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one thousand metres and is therefore exactly equal to the distance travelled by light in free space in of a second...

 from any point in Parliament Square
Parliament Square
Parliament Square is a square outside the northwest end of the Palace of Westminster in London. It features a large open green area in the middle, with a group of trees to its west. It contains statues of famous statesmen and is the scene of rallies and protests, as well as being a tourist...

. Demonstrators must give written notice to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police six days in advance, or if this is not reasonably practicable then no less than 24 hours in advance.

The area itself is defined by a Statutory Instrument, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Designated Area) Order 2005, rather than the Act. It specifically excludes Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a public space and tourist attraction in central London, England, United Kingdom. At its centre is Nelson's Column, which is guarded by four lion statues at its base. There are a number of statues and sculptures in the square, with one plinth displaying changing pieces of...

, a traditional site of protest on the northern boundary of the area. Apart from Parliament it also includes Whitehall
Whitehall is a road in Westminster, in London, England. It is the main artery running north from Parliament Square, towards Charing Cross at the southern end of Trafalgar Square...

, Downing Street
Downing Street
Downing Street in London, England has for over two hundred years housed the official residences of two of the most senior British cabinet ministers: the First Lord of the Treasury, an office now synonymous with that of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the Second Lord of the Treasury, an...

, Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

, the Middlesex Guildhall
Middlesex Guildhall
The Middlesex Guildhall is the home of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It stands on the south-west corner of Parliament Square in London.-History:...

, New Scotland Yard, and the Home Office
Home Office
The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order. As such it is responsible for the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service . It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs,...

. It also covers a small section of land on the other bank of the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

, including County Hall
County Hall, London
County Hall is a building in Lambeth, London, which was the headquarters of London County Council and later the Greater London Council . The building is on the bank of the River Thames, just north of Westminster Bridge, facing west toward the City of Westminster, and close to the Palace of...

, the Jubilee Gardens, St Thomas' Hospital
St Thomas' Hospital
St Thomas' Hospital is a large NHS hospital in London, England. It is administratively a part of Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust. It has provided health care freely or under charitable auspices since the 12th century and was originally located in Southwark.St Thomas' Hospital is accessible...

 and the London Eye
London Eye
The London Eye is a tall giant Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames, in London, England.It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over 3.5 million people annually...


These provisions of the Act were introduced partially as a result of Brian Haw
Brian Haw
Brian William Haw was an English protester and peace campaigner who lived for almost ten years in a camp in London's Parliament Square from 2001, in a protest against UK and US foreign policy...

, a peace campaigner, who from 1 June 2001 until his death on 18 June 2011 protested against Britain and the USA's policy towards Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

. He used placards and a loudspeaker to get his message across, which some British MPs found disruptive. Patrick Cormack
Patrick Cormack
Patrick Cormack, Baron Cormack, FSA DL is a British politician, historian, journalist and author. He was a Conservative Party Member of Parliament from 1970 to 2010.-Early life:...

 MP said in a Parliamentary debate on 7 February 2005 that the lives of "members of staff in Portcullis House
Portcullis House
Portcullis House is an office building in Westminster, London, UK, that was commissioned in 1992 and opened in 2001 to provide offices for 213 Members of Parliament and their staff, augmenting limited space in the Palace of Westminster and surroundings....

 and 1 Parliament Street, as well as the police who are on duty at Members entrance day after day … are made intolerable by those people baying away, without a crowd to address, merely repeating themselves ad nauseam."

However, others, such as Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Bernard Corbyn is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament for Islington North since 1983.-Early and personal life:...

 MP disagreed, saying "The Minister should think carefully about removing rights that are enshrined in our history," and Glenda Jackson
Glenda Jackson
Glenda May Jackson, CBE is a British Labour Party politician and former actress. She has been a Member of Parliament since 1992, and currently represents Hampstead and Kilburn. She previously served as MP for Hampstead and Highgate...

 MP agreed with him. "I regard it as the voice of democracy", she said. Lembit Öpik
Lembit Öpik
Lembit Öpik is a British Liberal Democrat politician. He was the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Montgomeryshire in Wales from 1997 until he lost his seat in the 2010 General Election...

 MP drew attention to the comments of the Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

, who, on 7 April 2002, said: "When I pass protestors every day at Downing Street... I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom." The Home Office stated the security concerns, such as the possibility of explosive devices being left in and around Haw's paraphernalia, were another reason for the legislation.

The legislation initially appeared ineffective against Mr Haw. The High Court of Justice
High Court of Justice
The High Court of Justice is, together with the Court of Appeal and the Crown Court, one of the Senior Courts of England and Wales...

 ruled that as Haw's protest had begun in June 2001 he was not required to get authorisation. The three-strong judicial panel accepted arguments by Mr Haw's lawyers that the law only applied to demonstrations that took place after it came into force, not those previously in progress. However, on 8 May 2006, this decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal.

On 1 August 2005, the day that the Act came into force, the Stop the War Coalition
Stop the War Coalition
The Stop the War Coalition is a United Kingdom group set up on 21 September 2001 that campaigns against what it believes are unjust wars....

 and others organised a protest against the prohibition. They did not officially ask for permission, but at the subsequent court cases it was revealed that the Stop the War Coalition had negotiated with police about the protest. The action attracted some 200 people according to reports — among them Lauren Booth
Lauren Booth
Lauren Booth is an English broadcaster, journalist and pro-Palestinian activist. She works for Iran's English language news channel, Press TV.-Family:...

, Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

's sister-in-law — and five people were arrested.

The first conviction under the Act was in December 2005, when Maya Evans
Maya Evans
Maya Evans is a British peace campaigner who was arrested alongside fellow activist Milan Rai in October 2005 opposite the Cenotaph war memorial in London, for refusing to stop reading aloud the names of British soldiers who had been killed in Iraq following the 2003 Iraq war.Evans, a vegan chef...

 was convicted for reading the names of British soldiers killed in the Iraq War, near the Cenotaph
A cenotaph is an "empty tomb" or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere. The word derives from the Greek κενοτάφιον = kenotaphion...

 in October, without police authorisation.

In 2006, the comedian and political activist Mark Thomas
Mark Thomas
Mark Clifford Thomas is a left-wing English comedian, presenter, political activist and reporter from south London. He first became known as a guest comic on the BBC Radio 1 comedy show The Mary Whitehouse Experience in the late 1980s. He is best known for political stunts on his show, The Mark...

 attacked this section of the act by organising several protests within the area, within the confines of the law. His most notable was when he organised 21 protests over the course of a single day within the area. This act got Thomas into the Guinness Book of Records for taking part in the most protests in a single day. However, as the first and last protest took place in the same location, only 20 protests are recognised by Guinness.

In January 2007 Tate Britain
Tate Britain
Tate Britain is an art gallery situated on Millbank in London, and part of the Tate gallery network in Britain, with Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives. It is the oldest gallery in the network, opening in 1897. It houses a substantial collection of the works of J. M. W. Turner.-History:It...

 opened State Britain
State Britain
State Britain is an installation artwork by Mark Wallinger displayed in Tate Britain in January 2007. It is a recreation from scratch of a protest display about the treatment of Iraq, set up by Brian Haw outside Parliament and eventually confiscated by the police. Haw's display contained several...

, an installation
Installation art
Installation art describes an artistic genre of three-dimensional works that are often site-specific and designed to transform the perception of a space. Generally, the term is applied to interior spaces, whereas exterior interventions are often called Land art; however, the boundaries between...

 by artist Mark Wallinger
Mark Wallinger
Mark Wallinger is a British artist, best known for his sculpture for the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, Ecce Homo , and State Britain , a recreation at Tate Britain of Brian Haw's protest display outside parliament. He won the Turner Prize in 2007...

 that recreated the display confiscated by the police from Brian Haw's protest. The Tate press release on the exhibition mentioned that the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 prohibited "unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square" and that this radius passed through the Duveen Hall, literally bisecting Wallinger's exhibit. Wallinger marked this on the floor with a black line running through the Tate. Press reports dwelt on the potential dangers of this infringement, speculating that the police might even remove the half of the exhibit on the "wrong" side of the line. Charles Thomson
Charles Thomson (artist)
Charles Thomson is an English artist, painter, poet and photographer. In the early 1980s he was a member of The Medway Poets. In 1999 he named and co-founded the Stuckists art movement with Billy Childish. He has curated Stuckist shows, organised demonstrations against the Turner Prize, run an art...

 of the Stuckists
Stuckism is an international art movement founded in 1999 by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson to promote figurative painting in opposition to conceptual art...

 art group wrote to The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

, pointing out that the exclusion zone ended at Thorney Street, 300 yards before the Tate.

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown
James Gordon Brown is a British Labour Party politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 until 2010. He previously served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government from 1997 to 2007...

 said that he planned to look again at this section of the SOCPA, meaning that protesters may eventually be able to protest freely in the kilometre-radius of parliament without prior authorisation being needed. In October 2007, the Home Office published a public consultation document, Managing Protest Around Parliament, which "takes another look at sections 132-138 [of SOCPA] and explores whether there is another way to address the situation that would both uphold the right to protest while also giving police the powers they need to keep the peace". Campaigners are worried that this document contains new threats to freedom of assembly and the right to protest in that is suggests that there could be "harmonisation of powers to manage marches and assemblies" throughout the UK.

Sections 132 to 138 of the Act were repealed by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It transfers the control of police forces from police authorities to elected "police and crime commissioners"...

, which provides for a different scheme of "prohibited activities" on Parliament Square.


SOCPA also amended the Protection from Harassment Act 1997
Protection from Harassment Act 1997
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is a piece of United Kingdom law which, among other things, criminalises and creates a right to protection from stalking and persistent bullying in the workplace.-Definition:...

 so that "pursuing a course of conduct" amounting to harassment could mean approaching two people just once, rather than one person at least twice, as before. Commentators such as George Monbiot
George Monbiot
George Joshua Richard Monbiot is an English writer, known for his environmental and political activism. He lives in Machynlleth, Wales, writes a weekly column for The Guardian, and is the author of a number of books, including Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain and Bring on the...

 have voiced the concern that the amended Harassment Act effectively "allows the police to ban any campaign they please".

External links

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