Leading human rights lawyer Helen Mountfield warns that the government’s new lobbying bill, designed to make lobbying more transparent, will have a chilling effect on the campaigning activities of charities. Her comments, published in an article in the Guardian today, reflect growing concern that the bill, which was brought before parliament without consultation, includes provisions that could constitute a threat to the right to free speech. The bill curtails the ability of charities and other non-party groups to campaign on political issues in the 12 months before a general election , and broadens the definition of what constitutes “election campaigning” to include: “activity which affects the outcome of an election even if that was not its purpose”. Mountfield is quoted as stating: “This uncertainty about what the law requires is likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression, by putting small organisations and their trustees/directors in fear of criminal penalty if they speak out on matters of public interest and concern…” Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Service argues that: “This bill takes us from a situation in which charities and community groups largely understood the rules on what they could do, into a position where no one has any idea of what the rules are, but may nevertheless face criminal prosecution for getting them wrong. This is the inevitable consequence of rushing legislation through without any consultation”.
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