An amended bill was made after the Parliamentary Legal Committee raised objections in an adverse report and the bill was passed by National Assembly on 9 August. The amended bill will now go through the Senate after which it will eventually become law.
Said Veritas in its analysis:
Is the Bill Now Constitutional?
No it is not. As pointed out above, the amendments have not met the PLC’s objection that clauses 5 to 8 unduly limit citizens’ constitutional right to demonstrate peacefully in public. Clause 12 is equally repressive, by imposing excessive civil liability on convenors who fail to notify the police of forthcoming demonstrations. The Bill still prohibits demonstrations near Parliament which, as the PLC said, unduly inhibits citizens from petitioning Parliament.
It is to be hoped that the Senate will make further amendments to protect the essential democratic freedoms of assembly and demonstration, and to render the Bill fully compliant with the Constitution. Further amendments to that end could include the following:
- Allowing unplanned demonstrations and meetings to be held.
- For planned demonstrations and meetings, reducing the period of notice that must be given to the police beforehand: four days should be ample notice.
- Giving a magistrate, rather than a senior police officer, the power to prohibit the holding of gatherings under clause 8(9) of the Bill. In other words if a regulating authority (a senior police officer) believes that a gathering will cause serious disorder, he or she should approach a magistrate for an order prohibiting the gathering, and the magistrate should be obliged to consult the organisers before issuing such an order.
- Allowing organisers of public gatherings to escape civil liability for loss or damage under clause 12 of the Bill if they can show that the injury or damage would probably have occurred even if they had complied fully with all instructions given by the police.
- Giving courts a discretion to award compensation for loss or damage caused by violent public gatherings under clause 12(5) of the Bill. At present courts must award compensation, whether victims have asked for it or not.
- Obliging the Police, whenever they use force to disperse or control a gathering, to make a full written report to the Minister with a copy to the organisers of the gathering, and obliging the Minister to lay the report before Parliament.
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