Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA).
This act was brought in to establish and set out the functions of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, to set out more information about investigations, prosecutions, offenders and witnesses in criminal proceedings and the protection of persons involved in investigations or proceedings, to provide for the implementation of certain international obligations relating to criminal matters, to make further provisions for combatting crime and disorder, to protect certain organisations from interference with their activities and so on.
“Part 5” of the act is to do with the “protection of activities of certain organisations”. Section 145 specifically deals with interference with contracts in order to harm animal research organisations. More information is set out below the wording of the law as to explain what it actually means and what protesters can still do without breaking the law.
Section 145 – Interference with contractual relationships so as to harm animal research organisation.
(1)A person (A) commits an offence if, with the intention of harming an animal research organisation, he—
(a)does a relevant act, or
(b)threatens that he or somebody else will do a relevant act,
in circumstances in which that act or threat is intended or likely to cause a second person (B) to take any of the steps in subsection (2).
(2)The steps are—
(a)not to perform any contractual obligation owed by B to a third person (C) (whether or not such non-performance amounts to a breach of contract);
(b)to terminate any contract B has with C;
(c)not to enter into a contract with C.
(3)For the purposes of this section, a “relevant act” is—
(a)an act amounting to a criminal offence, or
(b)a tortious act causing B to suffer loss or damage of any description;But paragraph (b) does not include an act which is actionable on the ground only that it induces another person to break a contract with B.
(4)For the purposes of this section, “contract” includes any other arrangement (and “contractual” is to be read accordingly).
(5)For the purposes of this section, to “harm” an animal research organisation means—
(a)to cause the organisation to suffer loss or damage of any description, or
(b)to prevent or hinder the carrying out by the organisation of any of its activities.
(6)This section does not apply to any act done wholly or mainly in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute.
(7)In subsection (6) “trade dispute” has the same meaning as in Part 4 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (c. 52), except that section 218 of that Act shall be read as if—
(a)it made provision corresponding to section 244(4) of that Act, and
(b)in subsection (5), the definition of “worker” included any person falling within paragraph (b) of the definition of “worker” in section 244(5).
Section 146 – Intimidation of persons connected with animal research organisation
(1)A person (A) commits an offence if, with the intention of causing a second person (B) to abstain from doing something which B is entitled to do (or to do something which B is entitled to abstain from doing)—
(a)A threatens B that A or somebody else will do a relevant act, and
(b)A does so wholly or mainly because B is a person falling within subsection (2).
(2)A person falls within this subsection if he is—
(a)an employee or officer of an animal research organisation;
(b)a student at an educational establishment that is an animal research organisation;
(c)a lessor or licensor of any premises occupied by an animal research organisation;
(d)a person with a financial interest in, or who provides financial assistance to, an animal research organisation;
(e)a customer or supplier of an animal research organisation;
(f)a person who is contemplating becoming someone within paragraph (c), (d) or (e);
(g)a person who is, or is contemplating becoming, a customer or supplier of someone within paragraph (c), (d), (e) or (f);
(h)an employee or officer of someone within paragraph (c), (d), (e), (f) or (g);
(i)a person with a financial interest in, or who provides financial assistance to, someone within paragraph (c), (d), (e), (f) or (g);
(j)a spouse, civil partner, friend or relative of, or a person who is known personally to, someone within any of paragraphs (a) to (i);
(k)a person who is, or is contemplating becoming, a customer or supplier of someone within paragraph (a), (b), (h), (i) or (j); or
(l)an employer of someone within paragraph (j).
(3)For the purposes of this section, an “officer” of an animal research organisation or a person includes—
(a)where the organisation or person is a body corporate, a director, manager or secretary;
(b)where the organisation or person is a charity, a charity trustee (within the meaning of the Charities Act 1993 (c. 10));
(c)where the organisation or person is a partnership, a partner.
(4)For the purposes of this section—
(a)a person is a customer or supplier of another person if he purchases goods, services or facilities from, or (as the case may be) supplies goods, services or facilities to, that other; and
(b)“supplier” includes a person who supplies services in pursuance of any enactment that requires or authorises such services to be provided.
(5)For the purposes of this section, a “relevant act” is—
(a)an act amounting to a criminal offence, or
(b)a tortious act causing B or another person to suffer loss or damage of any description.
(6)The Secretary of State may by order amend this section so as to include within subsection (2) any description of persons framed by reference to their connection with—
(a)an animal research organisation, or
(b)any description of persons for the time being mentioned in that subsection.
(7)This section does not apply to any act done wholly or mainly in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute.
(8)In subsection (7) “trade dispute” has the meaning given by section 145(7)
Section 147 – Penalty for offences under sections 145 and 146
(1)A person guilty of an offence under section 145 or 146 is liable—
(a)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;
(b)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine, or to both.
(2)No proceedings for an offence under either of those sections may be instituted except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Notes and explanation.
An important first note about this law is that you cannot be arrested solely for attempting to disrupt a contract between 2 companies. If you’re taking part in a protest against a supplier or a customer of an animal testing laboratory, it is likely that you want them to stop their contract with the lab, or not to begin a contract, or renew one. As long as your protest remains peaceful and within the law, you haven’t done anything illegal. If you start to take part in activities on your protest that are against the law, you can be arrested under s145 of SOCPA.
As an example, we will use the companies Huntingdon Life Sciences – an animal testing laboratory – and their supplier Henderson Biomedical, who supply them with laboratory equipment. These companies will have a contract to work with each other and the SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) campaign have very obvious reasons why they wish to see that contract terminated.
The SHAC campaign will aim to persuade Henderson Biomedical (among others) to end their contract and sever their ties with HLS. But what can they still do legally, now that SOCPA 2005 has become law?
As long as activists protest within the law, they cannot be arrested and charged under SOCPA 2005. Once the police believe that an illegal act has taken place, activists can be arrested and charged with s145 can also be added.
For example, “Activist A” takes part in a peaceful protest outside Henderson Biomedical. He explains, on a megaphone, why he is there and hands out leaflets. He wants to disrupt the contract that exists between Henderson and HLS, but he is trying to do it with persuasion. No matter how loud he shouts, how many leaflets he hands out, as long as the protest remains within the law, he cannot be charged with SOCPA s145.
“Activist B” on the other hand sees a delivery truck leaving Henderson and, believing it to be on its way to HLS, sits in front of the truck on the road. The police arrive and, even though Activist B is calm and polite, she is still committing the offence of “Wilful obstruction of the highway” and is arrested when she refuses to leave. The CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) believe that her intention was to force Henderson to end its contract with HLS and charge her with “interference with contractual relationships…”.
The same would apply if an activist was arrested for s5 Public Order Act for threatening, abusive or insulting language or behaviour that could cause harassment, alarm or distress to the workers inside Henderson or if someone was arrested for causing criminal damage to Henderson’s premises in order to force them to terminate their contract.
Under SOCPA, a “tortious act” will also count as a “relevant act” as well as criminal offences. A “tortious act” includes trespass which is otherwise seen as a “civil matter” in UK law. Normally you can’t be arrested for trespass as it is not a criminal offence.
However, if you are trespassing on land belonging to a company or person falling into the categories stated in the law and this act causes the company or person to suffer loss or damage (this may even just include employees having to stop work temporarily to deal with you, but some loss or damage must be suffered) you could be arrested and charged under s145 / s146 of SOCPA. Your intention must be to harm the animal research organisation.
Use of the law in the past.
An activist was arrested soon after the law came into place because he was accused of causing criminal damage to a company. Instead of being arrested for criminal damage, he was charged with s145 – presumably as it was a new law and the police wished to show animal testing companies that they were doing to something to protect them and had brought in a law specifically to do so. The activist served several months in prison.
After an investigation into activists connected with the campaign against Sequani animal testing laboratory in Gloucestershire, several people had their houses raided and were arrested as part of “Operation Tornado”. After being made to travel day after day to Birmingham for a trial that lasted a number of weeks, all of the activists except one, were found not guilty. Sean Kirtley was found guilty and sentenced to 4 and a half years (almost the maximum sentenced allowed under the law). After more than a year in prison and having managed to get an appeal into the courts, his conviction was overturned and he was released.
A few years after the law came into place, 4 activists were arrested under s145 when they were accused of trespassing at Highgate Farm (which breeds rabbits and ferrets for testing purposes). The prosecution’s case would have been that they had trespassed with the intention of interfering with a contractual relationship and had caused the owner of the farm to suffer loss/damage in doing so. 3 of the activists pleaded guilty to the charge (2 spent some time on remand and were sentenced just to the amount of time they had served already). The 4th pleaded not guilty and, after her trial, was found not guilty.
More recent cases include activists in London being arrested under s145 and s146 and accused of taking part in a series of actions against various companies. As this is still going through the legal process, we can’t mention any details about the case. However, the interesting thing to note is that it is a series of alleged actions over several months (even years).
Therefore, if you are not sure whether your behaviour constitutes an offence under SOCPA, seek legal advice – gone are the days where the police arrested you as soon as they could if they believed you had committed an offence. These are the days where the police won’t even inform you that what you’re doing is/could be illegal and will instead just stand back and let you continue, unaware, until they can build a big case against you. The law isn’t there to prevent crime, don’t be fooled…
For more information about other sections of SOCPA and the Serious Organised Crime Agency, see the other articles on this website.