Government accountability / Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights / Policing / Protest rights

The Policing Bill – what happened, and what now?

Posted on 29 Apr 2022

In addition, new police powers, which will entrench the danger of police interactions, particularly for Black men and survivors of domestic abuse and criminal exploitation were slightly amended; however, we do not believe these go far enough to mitigate their harmful effects.

The piloting requirement for Serious Violence Reduction Orders, which expand suspicion-less stop and search and entrench the harms of joint enterprise, was amended so that the evaluation of the pilot must consider their impact on marginalised communities. The serious violence duty will expand surveillance and erode people’s data rights by enabling, and in some cases potentially forcing, public bodies to hand over information about people to the police, however health and social care data will now be excluded from the scheme.

What is the Policing Bill?

The Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a huge and dense piece of legislation with seriously worrying consequences.

It includes a clampdown on protest, sweeping new powers for the police, and would criminalise Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities’ way of life.

The Bill would hit those communities already affected by over-policing hardest, particularly young Black men.

What opposition did it face?

Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen a huge amount of opposition to the Bill from across society.

It was opposed by former senior police officers, Parliamentarians – including 3 former Prime Ministers – as well as 700 academics who called for it to be dropped, and over 350 charities who signed a letter against the Bill.

Led by Sisters Uncut and Kill the Bill, a year of public protests demonstrated the strength of feeling against the Bill and pushed it to the front of the news agenda, and almost a million people signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped.

What was removed from the Bill?

When peers in the House of Lords first voted on the Bill, they inflicted 14 defeats on the Government.

These threats to protest were defeated for good:

  •  The offence of locking on and being equipped to lock on.
  • Interference with major transport works.
  • Interference of key national infrastructure.
  • Stop and search on specifically for items associated with other parts of the Bill, such as causing “nuisance”.
  • Suspicionless stop and search related to protest.
  • Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (protest banning orders)

In addition, new police powers, which will entrench the danger of police interactions, particularly for Black men and survivors of domestic abuse and criminal exploitiation, were amended so that there must be a robust pilot and a parliamentary vote before their roll out.

What was voted through in the Bill?

The following measures were voted down by peers – but were sadly voted back in by MPs:

  • Creating a ‘buffer zone’ around Parliament.
  • Giving police power to impose noise-based restrictions on protest.
  • Criminalising one-person protests.
  • Giving police power to impose restrictions on public assemblies.
  • Creating the offence of wilful obstruction of the highway (amended to only include the Strategic Road Network.

Powers to criminalise trespass, which threaten the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities, were passed by the House of Lords.

What happens now?

While we should feel angry about the bill’s passing, we should not feel defeated. Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life have come together to stand up for human rights, and to protect each other and our communities.

Now, more than ever, we need to unite for the fights to come. The Policing Bill is just one among many Government attempts to strip us of our rights and make it much harder for ordinary people to hold the powerful to account.

The Elections Bill, also due to pass through Parliament this week, will introduce mandatory voter ID – which is likely to block huge numbers of people from voting, particularly those from marginalised groups. Meanwhile, the Judicial Review Bill attempts to make it harder to challenge the Government in court – and change the rules so that even winning a case might not be worthwhile.

Perhaps most worryingly, the Government is planning to replace the Human Rights Act – which for over 20 years has protected us all from abuse of power. The Government’s new proposals will weaken everyone’s rights, and make it much harder for us to challenge the powerful when our rights are breached.

What can I do?

At Liberty, we have a plan to fight back. Everyone needs to be equipped to understand the changes that the Policing Bill is bringing in, so that we can resist injustice and ultimately pave the way for a better future.

Liberty will produce a host of different materials, resources, workshops, training sessions and more to groups and individuals directly affected.

Our experienced Advice and Information team is working flat-out to produce a range of new materials that bring everyone up to speed with the new protest and policing laws and help them stand up for their rights. These include:

  • training sessions, presentations, and workshops for grassroots campaigners and groups
  • an updated, freely accessible online ‘Know Your Rights’ Hub
  • ‘bust cards’ and other materials for activists ‘on the ground’
  • translations and more to make everything accessible to everyone, no matter their background.

But we need to raise at least £17,500 to make this happen. And we need to act fast.

Please donate to help communities defend their rights.

 

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