13 September 2021
  • 350+ organisations label the Bill an ‘attack’ on rights
  • Calls for the government to ‘fundamentally rethink’ approach
  • Fears legislation will have ‘profound impact’ on rights to protest and marginalised communities.

More than 350 organisations have expressed alarm at handing the police sweeping new powers in the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, to enter the Lords this week [14/09/2021]. 

The groups, including leading human rights, children and mental health charities, trade unions, countryside, environment and faith groups, said the wide-ranging legislation would have a ‘profound impact’ on the right to protest, compound inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller communities, and further entrench racial disparity in the criminal justice system, through expansive policing and sentencing powers.

The letter calls on the home secretary, Priti Patel, and justice secretary, Robert Buckland to ‘fundamentally rethink’ their approach and claims the legislation – being debated in the Lords on Tuesday – is an ‘attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens.’

Chief Executive, Stephanie Draper, Bond said: “This bill is incompatible with international law and sets a bad precedent internationally. At a time when the right to protest is under attack around the world, the UK should be setting a positive example, rather than making it harder for people to protest. As international development actors whose mission often centre around a core belief that social and economic injustice drives poverty and conflict – it is important we stand in solidarity with communities and campaigners who will be most impacted by the bill.”

Gracie Bradley, Director at Liberty, said: “The Policing Bill creates dangerous restrictions on our right to protest and threatens the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities. It creates new powers that will lead to harassment and oppressive monitoring of young people, working class people, and people of colour in particular, and doubles down on existing measures that will funnel more people into the criminal punishment system. It is time for Peers to stand up for our rights and reject this Bill, and for the Government to reverse course on the array of dangerous proposals it contains.”

Part 3 of the Bill places new restrictions on the right to protest - including allowing the police to set start and finish times, set noise limits, and restrict protests that are deemed to be a nuisance. 

Part 4 introduces a new criminal offence of trespass, which has led to concern amongst countryside campaigners at increasing tensions between landowners and those accessing the outdoors, and from those representing marginalised groups.

Sarah Mann, Director of Friends, Families and Travellers, said: ‘‘This Bill presents the biggest threat to Gypsy and Traveller communities that we have seen for decades. We have seen huge opposition to these proposals, not only from the police but from across society in recognition of the implications for human rights and civil liberties.”

Key aspects of the Bill passed unamended through the House of Commons and Committee stages, despite high-profile critics including former police chiefs and the former Prime Minister and Home Secretary Theresa May who called on Priti Patel to carefully consider the ‘fine line between being popular and being populist. Our freedoms depend on it.’ 

Speaking on the Bill entering the Lords, former Home Secretary, Lord David Blunkett, said the Bill ‘will drive a wedge between the police and ordinary people doing what you would expect in a mature democracy - expressing dissent on issues they care passionately about,’ and explained that ‘there are other ways of dealing with those anarchists who capture legitimate demonstrations for their own purposes, and this bill does not achieve that goal.’

Lord Paddick, former Deputy Assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the Bill ‘undermines policing by consent - which underpins the whole basis of British policing – with police officers making decisions on whether to restrict people's legal right to protest freely.’ He added, it will have ‘a huge impact on public trust and confidence, particularly amongst marginalised communities across the UK.

Baroness Whitaker, Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, said the powers in the Bill ‘embody the hostile environment towards Gypsy and Traveller people,’ declaring that the government has ‘wilfully chosen to ignore what the Joint Committee on Human Rights and our Police forces have said, and instead opted on slamming down its iron fist on some of the most marginalised communities in the UK.’

It is hoped that amendments will be proposed and approved before the Bill returns to the House of Commons later this year.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  1. Letter from 350+ organisations available here: https://policebillalliance.org/home-secretary-and-secretary-of-state-for-justice/
  2. The letter was organised by Liberty, Bond, Friends of the Earth, Quakers in Britain, and Friends, Families and Travellers: https://policebillalliance.org
  3. Some recognisable signatories include:  Liberty, Friends of the Earth, Bond, Big Brother Watch, Mind, Shelter, Unlock Democracy, NASUWT - The Teachers’ Union, CAFOD, mySociety, Human Rights Watch, Unite the Union, Open Britain, Transparency International UK, Amnesty International UK, Oxfam Great Britain, Best for Britain, National Education Union, Fire Brigades Union, ASLEF, NUJ, Refugee Action, Mind, Shelter, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Stonewall, Cycling UK, RSPB, UNISON, RMT, Greenpeace UK, The Wildlife Trust, RSPCA, Compass, Right to Roam, HOPE Not Hate, ClientEarth, Plan International UK, Save the Children UK, Children England, ActionAid UK