Policing by consent in question after Clapham Common, police report and government bill on crime and justice

The scenes on Clapham Common last night as the police broke up the vigil for Sarah Everard were a disgrace and undermine the fundamental principle of policing by consent. Leading Lib Dems have called on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign. It was not a protest. It was a statement of solidarity with a woman who had been abducted from the streets of London and murdered. It was a declaration that women should be safe on the streets. Lib Dem Voice editor Caron Lindsay told of her personal experiences yesterday.

The UK’s tradition of policing by consent is being replaced by policing by authority. Legislation now in parliament looks set to reinforce authority at the expense of the fundamental right of freedom to protest.

A tectonic shift in the relationship between protesters, governments and the police is underway. We have seen this on the international stage. The suppression of protests in Hong Kong, Myanmar and Iran and the police reaction to the protests following the death of George Floyd are just a few examples.

Not everyone in the police is in favour of growing authoritarianism. They stand above calls from the populist right to clamp down on anyone who does not share their views. Many police across the world have taken the knee to acknowledge the wrongs of the way that black people have been treated and are still treated.

On Thursday, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published a report on policing protests. The report made headlines for saying that it would rarely be appropriate for police to take the knee. The Inspectorate argued that current policing tips the balance in favour of protesters. Liberty has called the report a “staggering assault” on the right to protest.

The Inspectorate commissioned a survey for the report. For every person who thought it acceptable for the police to ignore protesters committing minor offences, twice as many thought it was unacceptable (60% unacceptable, 19% acceptable). Two in three Conservatives though police should not ignore offending protestors. Fewer than one in five Lib Dems took that view.

In the background to current events is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021. It is wide ranging. Liberty has warned the bill risks stifling dissent, criminalising Gypsy and Traveller communities, and subjecting marginalised communities to profiling and even more disproportionate policing.

The bill will target travellers by creating a criminal offence of residing in a vehicle on land without permission. Powers for the police against terrorist offenders will be ramped up. The maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker will be increased. The bill also tackles protest, including stiffer sentences for toppling statues and defacing memorials.

We are still in a pandemic. But that should not be an excuse to increase authoritarianism. It should not be an excuse to prevent people expressing their anger, their fears after the death of yet another woman who was doing what men do with confidence every day. Living life as it should be lived. Without fear. With police in support not acting as the aggressor.

Recent actions by the police and the Inspectorate report are moving our policing service further away from policing by consent, a principle established by Robert Peel almost two hundred years ago.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Little Jackie Paper 14th Mar '21 - 10:15am

    It’s a lockdown! It’s restrictions! It NOT a matter of consent! It is explicitly authoritarian!

    You can have covid emergency rule or you can have policing by consent. If you backed lockdowns and you backed restrictions then Clapham is on you.

    And if you think that these ’emergency’ powers will be given up…WW2 ended in 1945. The last conscript left the army in 1963.

    ID database anyone?

  • Helen Dudden 14th Mar '21 - 10:32am

    I’ve been concerned at the levels of policing, when so called sitting on a bench having a coffee, became a picnic.
    Two women walking in the country side.
    Like many other’s I was shocked by the reports on the loss of this young woman. My sincere condolences to to the family.
    What ever is happening in society, it’s not where it should be.
    Transparent public services, are very important, it starts at the head of government.

  • Brad Barrows 14th Mar '21 - 10:35am

    Be clear, ‘policing by consent’ does not mean with the consent of those who are breaking covid rules, defying a High Court ruling and then refusing to disperse when instructed by the police.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Mar '21 - 10:44am

    Very glad to read your post, Andy, and hope our parliamentarians are seeking amendments to this Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which as you point out Liberty is taking issue with. Andrew Marr asked why noisy protests should be forbidden, and the minister Victoria Atkins didn’t have a satisfactory answer.

    I think our party needs to take a stronger line on civil liberties, and ensure the restrictions allowed to deter Covid19 don’t become permanent. Large gatherings haven’t actually produced surges of cases, have they? Whether packed Bournemouth beach or other open-air gatherings. The entirely peaceful Clapham vigil last night should surely have been allowed to proceed. The police have to be restrained now rather than further empowered, it seems to me.

  • “The bill will target travellers by creating a criminal offence of residing in a vehicle on land without permission. Powers for the police against terrorist offenders will be ramped up. The maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker will be increased. The bill also tackles protest, including stiffer sentences for toppling statues and defacing memorials”

    The above might not seem very liberal to the lib dems, but will have massive support throughout the country.

  • The parts of the bill referring to protest are chilling, but that isn’t the only thing that is wrong with it. I know we have a blind spot when it comes to the justice system – cuts to legal aid were hands down the worst thing we did in coalition – but we need to take note.

    The Prison Reform Trust gave this statement on the bill:

    “Yet again we face the depressing spectacle of a government using sentencing legislation to play politics. Sentences for serious crime have been getting much longer for two decades now, turning our prisons into places of despair. But there is not a shred of evidence to show that this runaway inflation in punishment reduces crime.

    Hard cases make bad law, and this confused bill repeats the mistakes of so much other politically inspired legislation with calamitous results. It will blight the lives of people living and working in prisons long after the temporary electoral considerations which inspired it have been forgotten”

    In response to the bill being criticised as draconian and essentially evidence-free with regard to sentencing, the Labour Party have proposed to make it even more draconian and evidence-free in regard to sentencing.

    The Liberal Democrats need to vote against this bill and the Labour Party amendments.

  • This was a gathering of people that went against the rules. We are living through a pandemic. People should not be doing this. If this had been a gathering of gammons protesting about some brexit issue would we be demanding the head of top copper if the police had broken it up? They were warned not to go ahead. There was a legal judgement against it. I despair.

  • Laurence Cox 14th Mar '21 - 11:30am

    Just as it only takes a small minority of men harrassing women to make all women feel unsafe, so it only takes a small minority of police behaving badly to taint the whole police force. I would not be surprised if on the same day that a Derbyshire policeman fined two women for a ‘picnic’ that many other people did exactly the same in other parts of the country while the police chose not to take any action – that, of course, is not news.

    Andy Boddington makes the very important point that the Bill presently going through the Commons will further discriminate against marginalised communities and there will be members of the police who will use these powers to harass them. Back in 1991 the Government rushed the Dangerous Dogs Act through parliament. In the following years a friend and Council colleague of mine, John Branch, was frequently in Court as an expert witness for the defence (he bred English Bull Terriers, and was an internationally recognised judge of Bull Terrier breeds) because the police were using the legislation to harrass petty criminals by seizing their dogs, rather than doing the harder work of investigating what crimes they were actually committing.

    I don’t think it is possible to remove all the ‘bad apples’ from the police, but at least we can refrain from giving them more powers to misuse.

  • Some of us remember Blair Peach and Ian Tomlinson……..

  • Joseph Bourke 14th Mar '21 - 12:09pm

    David Raw,

    I was there the night Blair Peach was killed. I had gone to the train station to bring my sister back through the police cordon. When I returned home, the demonstrators had been corralled into the street where I lived. I was standing outside with the demonstrators, when the police charged the crowd with shields and batons. I was interviewed later as a witness, but did not see the actual event that led to Blair Peach’s killing a few yards from my parent’s house.

  • The Labour Party has gone from saying they’ll abstain early this morning to saying they’ll vote against slightly later this morning. Nothing like a sudden anti-policing backlash to capitalise on, but at least they’ve got there…

    (seems I posted that in the wrong article earlier)

  • Paul Barker 14th Mar '21 - 1:15pm

    Like Democracy, “Policing by Consent” is a work in progress, it has to be re-established every few Years & depends on a concerned Minority, most people tend not to be bothered (at best) until its their personal Freedom thats threatened. Certainly we are going to be spending the next 3 Years fighting back against this Governments continual attempts to corrupt The Police, turn every Public event into a battle in their Culture War & suppress Voting.

    The proposals about Travellers would amount to a sort of slow Cultural Genocide if fully implemented.

  • Yep the Met should start being authoritarian with themselves. When did they know one of their own had been exposing himself? And this someone carrying a powerful automatic weapon in areas of maximum security. If they knew who he was, he should have been immediately suspended and procedures for dismissal implemented. I don’t have much confidence in them and their macho culture.

  • We have lockdown rules for a reason.

    And whilst what happened to this lady was abhorrent, you cant seriously tell me that all these people were there for a vigil and to pay there respects, would there have been such a large crowd were we not in a lockdown? Or where many of these people there as they saw it as an opportunity to protest against the rules, I see Piers Corbyn and his cahoots attended, you cant tell me they were not there for an opportunity.

    We have lockdown rules for a reason, we are in a pandemic ( fortunately coming through the other side)
    My Father in Law passed away last Saturday in Australia, the Funeral was yesterday, we were not able to go. I am not an Australian Citizen, in order for me to get permission to go I would have had to apply to the embassy for permission which takes up to 2 weeks, We would then have had to quarantine in a hotel for 2 weeks at a cost of several thousand pounds, we would have more than likely had to do the same in the uk upon our return if we transited through a red list country, again, to the cost of a couple of thousand pounds.
    It meant asking the family to delay the funeral by a month ( which was not fair) and finding thousands of pounds to fund it all.
    Covid is cruel in so many ways, by robbing people of being with loved ones in their final moments, to saying good bye, it has even robbed men of seeing their children born.

    But we accept the rules to protect others and to protect public health.

    The rules are there for good reason

  • nigel hunter 14th Mar '21 - 1:54pm

    Policing.Johnsoon and his cohorts,remember,are Trumpite followers.The direction we are heading is harsh right wingism.Remember ,Democracy has to be fought for.

  • We do talk a load of hogwash sometimes. Consent means you follow the law. If you decide to break a High Court instruction, ignore warnings, feel that you are above the law as well as endangering ytourself and others,, a sort of narcistic arrogant approach, for whatever reason you may try to conjure up, there will be consequences. All the demonstrators had to do was follow the advice of the organisers and the police. Simple. However much some of our party may try and colour it up, that is the issue.
    I was brought up in a family where my Nan, bless her, was involved in Suffragette marches, saw scenes that were disgraceful in the way they were managed, I do not know if she ever got arrested, and who was outside the Prison gates at Holloway the morning Ruth Ellis was hung. Frankly I do not think she would have supported the demonstration. Sympathetic yes, but rational given the perilous time we still live in.
    0ne small thought, the accused has not been tried yet, we do not know what actually happened, we can all formulate judgements but I would suggest we do need to wait for the case to unfold.

  • John Marriott 14th Mar '21 - 4:28pm

    For once I agree with Steve Baker and co over the legislation which was used to justify what happened on Clapham Common. It was virtually nodded through the House of Commons without a proper opportunity to scrutinise its implications. However, as I said on a concurrent thread if you try to pick and choose the laws you obey you end up sliding down the slippery slope towards anarchy.

    As far as so called travellers are concerned, the genuine law abiding variety needs to get a grip on those in its midst, whose behaviour gives the rest of them a bad name.

  • @LJP – I think you need to get a grip on things… The events we’ve seen this last year are nothing compared to the overtly political policing we saw in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The fallout from which (thankfully) is still influencing Policing.

    The concern is, a Westminster unfettered from its EU treaty commitments is now able to do whatever it likes, hence the authoritarian legislation being put before Parliament. But we shouldn’t forget 17.4m people voted for this state of affairs…

  • Jenny Barnes 14th Mar '21 - 4:59pm

    Over and again the Met displays its preference for being the biggest gang on the street, rather than any attempt to work with the public. In other places, vigils were organised and held with the police working with organisers to maximise social distancing. But the Met goes in with truncheons swinging.

    LJP – you’re at liberty to protest against lockdowns. I doubt the virus has ears to hear you.

  • Little Jackie Paper 14th Mar '21 - 5:06pm


    Sorry I don’t remember being placed under mass house arrest, forced to wear a muzzle, hotels-cum-prisons, mass wrecked educations, forced mass medical testing, forced mass business closure, forced social separation, being criminalised for association with people in my own house, forced worship cancellations, not being allowed to travel beyond the town border and so on back then. I also don’t remember having to exist at the tender mercy of the NHS bureaucracy back then either. If you are a-ok with all of this then I respectfully posit that you are the one in need of a grip.

    Quite what the EU has to do with this is a mystery to me. It was the Italians that imported this to Europe from the CCP after all.

    What’s shocking to me is how many people still seem dumb enough to see the vaccines as an exit plan. It’s only three weeks to flatten the curve.

  • It’s understandable that people are raising the issue of pandemic restrictions, but policing by consent should infer that police actions are in line with what the public considers a reasonable responsible. When they go beyond that they are being authoritarian and as Liberals we can’t stand by that. Yes the vigil presented some risk, but it was outside which lowers the risk and those attending did so at their own risk (mostly); there were a good number of people saying they’d prefer it to be a doorstep vigil or a walk rather than a static gathering, but there didn’t seem like a majority of people saying they wanted to see the participants assaulted and dragged off. The Met missed opportunities in the days proceeding to create the right circumstances for a peaceful evening. Predictably being the Met they chose the wrong option. Sometimes making exceptions to the rules isn’t unfair. As the Lambeth borough local party exec we came to the conclusion – like our MPs and Streatham’s Labour MP – that there is no alternative but for Cressida Dick to resign over this failure of leadership (see https://www.lambethlibdems.org.uk/cressida_dick)

  • Correction on above: …what the public considers a reasonable response (line 3)

  • LJP – I was referring to policing, the lockdown restrictions are the responsibility of the Conservative/Brexit party, who have demonstrated that they are quite happy to “take back control” and exercise the ‘sovereignty’ their position as Executive/monarch grants them over UK subjects. Don’t like it then I suggest you need to focus your attention on the British political establishment.

    However, I am intrigued, were you traumatized by your parents having to present an id card aka ration book when they went shopping?

  • Michael Bukola 14th Mar '21 - 7:31pm

    I very much expect the Commissioner to be moved on speedily after the London Elections away. Her performance on issues like serious youth violence leave much to be desired.

  • Tobias Sedlmeier 14th Mar '21 - 9:29pm


    – “the public” = the media classes.

    – “making exceptions to the rules” = exceptions for people with the “right” social background / political views.

    – “didn’t seem like a majority of people saying they wanted” = policing not based on equality but on mob rule

  • If you want to defend your right to protest and your right to free expression then you need to defend the very same rights for people you disagree with.

    It is no good criticising other public gatherings during lockdown whether that be anti-lockdown, anti-racism, right wing protests or whatever because you then find that when you want to protest your rights have been taken away.

    Draconian laws don’t distinguish between “deserving” and “undeserving” liberties – they either exist or they don’t. So stand up for everyone’s liberties or be prepared to lose yours.

  • I am passing no comment on what happened on Clapham Common on Saturday. I was not there. But I would like to comment on this matter of “policing by consent” as I think there is some rather low resolution thinking afoot.
    The police are there to apply the laws of the land. Those laws are made by a parliament elected by the people.
    If the police move away from the law, by arresting the innocent, or using excessive force, then they should be reined back.
    Those breaking the law do not have to consent to being arrested.
    The only questions we need to ask about Saturday is, were those gathered asked to disperse in accordance with covid restrictions ? Were they given ample time to comply ? Was only reasonable force used against those who failed to comply ? As I say, I don’t know the answer to those questions, though many others seem to have made up their minds.

  • Antony Watts 15th Mar '21 - 11:34am

    We have a four way issue here. Parliament makes laws, police are engaged to enforce them, judiciary oversea any infringements, and you are obliged to respect them.

    So don’t fire queries at the police, fire them at your MP if you don’t agree with the laws they have passed.

  • Peter Watson 15th Mar '21 - 12:46pm

    @Tobias Sedlmeier “exceptions for people with the ‘right’ social background / political views”
    The ‘right-on’ social background / political views, perhaps? 😉

  • Peter Watson 15th Mar '21 - 12:50pm

    @Marco “So stand up for everyone’s liberties or be prepared to lose yours.”

    Your post reminded me of Martin Niemöller’s powerful message, one version of which is:

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • It seems Labour is reverting to its ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric. Shameless that they have no qualms with misleading people about the law – considering Keir’s legal background, my respect for him has fallen considerably. They’re no more progressive on law and order than the Tories. Please don’t let our party fall into the same trap.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • David Raw
    Yes, indeed, it's all over the Guardian. Definitely needs resisting and sorting ou, and surprised Nicola let it go through (if she did ?) - especially given the...
  • Peter Martin
    "Now, as a result of Covid-19, the world’s monetary system based on national fiat currencies may be approaching a turning point." What does this...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Joe, The author of this piece clearly doesn't share your positive outlook re the euro. https://www.centralbanking.com/central-banks/reserves/foreign-ex...
  • Hannah Giovanna Daws
    Ends up being a question of how to define a state's actions - one for students of international politics. The problem ends up being "it's wrong to call it genoc...
  • Joe Bourke
    Peter Martin, this article explains why the Euro is the world's second largest reserve currency https://www.europeaninstitute.org/index.php/193-european-affa...