Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Passes in Parliament
Categories: Latest News
Friday August 06 2021
Concerns rise as MPs have voted in favour of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – which many have ruled ‘draconian’. Labour and Liberal Democrats made efforts to amend the current provisions of the Bill – however, this was rejected in the voting lobbies of the House of Commons.
The Bill was initially brought to Parliament after groups such as Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Black Lives Matter (BLM UK) protests were criticised by the Government as supposedly being disruptive to public life. Such measures have been touted by the Government as part of its first duty to ‘to protect its citizens and communities, keep them safe and to ensure that they can get on with their daily lives peacefully and without unnecessary interference.’
However, the Police Bill is problematic and dangerous to civil and democratic rights in the UK, threatening freedoms of expression, assembly and association, degrading democracy and impacting disproportionately on minority groups.
The PCSC Bill is inconsistent with the human rights legislations; it threatens our rights of Freedom of Expression (article 10), and Freedom of Assembly & Association (article 11) of the Human Rights Act and the Equality Commission of Human Rights, to which the UK is a signatory. The provisions within the Bill impose strict regulations on protests – for instance, depriving individuals from autonomy over the organisation of protests. Instead, the Bill hands over the power of deciding whether a protest is justified or whether it should be allowed at all to authorities. Police have been given greater control over demonstrations, to the extent that they are legally allowed to crackdown on protesters if their actions are deemed to cause ‘serious annoyance’ to the surrounding community. Under the new statutory offence of Public Nuisance, this could result in protestors receiving sentences of up to 10 years of jail time.
The right to protest is a key democratic right, used by members of the public and activists to publicly express their opinions and engage in national politics. It is also used draw attention on issues that need to be addressed and is an effective and democratic tactic for policy change. However, the Government is now regulating our rights, these new measures paving the way for the CPS to prosecute ‘acts of civil disobedience’ disrupt protests deemed to be ‘unlawful’ and prosecuting protestors. This is a significant cause for concern, the PCSC Bill suppressing voices of dissent or those that seek to challenge the status quo, as well as making it more difficult to hold the Government to account.
The PCSC Bill will also negatively affect minority groups disproportionately. It is set to dramatically reduce the rights of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) people – who already face a list of vulnerabilities – by making trespass a criminal offence. The Bill increases police powers to seize the property of GRT members following such an offence. Police can also stop and search individuals on the basis of a previous conviction for knife- or weapons-related offence without reasonable suspicion, as granted by clauses 140-142 of the Bill. The Ministry of Justice has, itself, admitted the Bill may in effect be discriminatory, stating:
“By virtue of the overrepresentation of these groups in the cohort of offender to which this policy applies, we acknowledge that any adverse impacts arising from these changes will be more likely to affect male and Black offenders.”
Campaigners have also warned that the PCSC Bill is likely to deepen racial inequality by criminalising the way of life of GRT communities and further marginalising them from the democratic system. The increased police powers also means that those subjected to new Serious Violence Reduction Order are vulnerable to intrusive monitoring, with whole communities placed at risk of surveillance and over-policing – further widening distrust between police and local communities. It is concerning that many more Black and minority individuals will likely be swept into the Criminal Justice System as a result of this bill. Once again, the Government is failing to protect the rights of minorities, entrenching already profound inequalities in the UK.
In response to the new measures, a number of social movement groups have united and mobilised to protest against the Bill. More than 250 organisations and over 500,00 individuals have signed an open letter against the Government’s proposals to criminalise protest and trespass, while other movements have signed a separate joint statement, calling on the government to scrap the Bill entirely. Many individuals are calling their local MP to defend their democratic right to peaceful protest, and some have publicly opposed the Bill in recent protests, under the rallying cry of ‘Kill the Bill’.
As widespread resistance to the imposition of the new Bill grows, activists are worried it will lead to individuals avoiding attending or organising protests for fear of arrest, breaching conditions that can be arbitrarily imposed by authorities and would result in them receiving a criminal record. It is critical in a democracy that we work to protect the rights of protestors and minorities groups.
The measures proposed by the Bill critically endanger functioning democracy in the UK, as well as threatening human rights to freedom of expression and assembly, enshrined in articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act and the ECHR. MEND urges the Government to protect the rights of protestors, to preserve the values and culture of the GRT community in the UK, to hold the police accountable and to commit to tackling wider inequalities, including Islamophobia.