Hertfordshire police officers “behaved like authorities in Egypt and China” when they arrested journalists last year, a peer has claimed.

After a debate on Tuesday, February 7, the House of Lords agreed 283 votes to 192 that members of the press who cover protests should be protected from wrongful arrest in law.

The decision – which means the government’s Public Order Bill will be changed – comes after four journalists were arrested during coverage of Just Stop Oil’s M25 protests in Hertfordshire last November.

LBC Radio reporter Charlotte Lynch was one of the arrested journalists, and her employer has hailed the move a “victory”.

Hertfordshire Chief Constable Charlie Hall has previously apologised for his officers’ actions and a report by a neighbouring force found officers who were deployed to the M25 did not use their powers “appropriately”.

The Comet: Baroness Boycott.Baroness Boycott. (Image: parliament.uk)

Speaking in the House of Lords, crossbencher and former Daily Express editor Baroness Boycott said: “I cannot believe, as a former newspaper editor, that I would now have to think that it might be more dangerous to send a journalist to Trafalgar Square than to Tahrir Square.”

In 2011, Egyptian security forces opened fire on protesters campaigning against police brutality and a lack of political freedom in Tahrir Square, Cairo.

Baroness Boycott quoted from a news report published in November 2022, which referenced the arrest of BBC journalist Ed Lawrence in Shanghai, China.

“I shall substitute a few words here to make the point,” the peer said.

“I substitute ‘Charlotte Lynch’ for ‘Ed Lawrence’, ‘the M25 in Hertfordshire’ for ‘Shanghai’, and ‘LBC’ for ‘BBC’ – and another world!

“Charlotte, like Ed Lawrence, was handcuffed for doing her job.

“She was held in a cell with a bucket for a toilet for five hours.

“She was fingerprinted and her DNA was taken, and she was not allowed to speak to anyone.

“Her arrest took place just two weeks before Ed Lawrence’s.

“Is this the kind of world we want to live in?

“As many noble Lords know, I have been a journalist and a newspaper editor.

“I have sent people to cover wars and protests, and I believe fundamentally in the right of anyone in the world, especially in our country, to protest about things they believe in.

“You protest only when you cannot get anywhere with anything else – when letters to MPs, to the local council and the newspaper have been explored.

“But just as this is a fundamental right, so is it more than just a fundamental right – it is a duty – of journalists to report on demonstrations, because demonstrations are where we see where society is fracturing and where people really care.”

Liberal Democrat peer Baron Paddick said there “cannot be any legitimate objection to journalists, legal observers, academics or even members of the public who want to report on protests”.

He said: “It is all very well for noble Lords to say, ‘well, if somebody was arrested in the way Charlotte Lynch was arrested, it was unlawful’, but the fact is Charlotte Lynch was taken out of the game for five hours and detained in a police cell, where she could not observe what was going on.

“We need upfront protection for journalists and observers.”