THE new policing Bill represents “an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens”, with the greatest impact on marginalised communities, an alliance of 350 organisations, including faith groups, has said.
The Police Bill Alliance is campaigning for fundamental change to the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (News, 12 March), which is going through Parliament, with its second reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday.
The Bill introduces new powers for police forces in England and Wales to restrict protests and impose time limits on demonstrations and maximum noise levels (Comment, 1 April).
The legislation also contains clauses that target Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities, by creating a new criminal offence of “residing on land without consent in a vehicle”.
The Quakers, who helped to co-ordinate a joint letter to the Government calling for a fundamental rethink, said: “Protest is vital to Quakers because it’s one of the ways we put our faith into action. We speak out when our conscience tells us we cannot stay silent on injustice in the world.
“We hope that the diversity of organisations signing this joint open letter will convince the Government to rethink its plans as the Bill continues its passage through Parliament. We uphold all those who would be negatively affected by this undemocratic Bill, including People of Colour and the Gypsy and Traveller community.”
In the joint letter, sent to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, they write: “This Bill will have a profound impact on the right to protest, constitutes a direct threat to Gypsy and Traveller communities and includes a host of expansive policing and sentencing powers that will further entrench racial disparity in the criminal justice system. [It] represents an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens, in particular those from marginalised communities.”
“Kill the Bill” protests have taken place across the country since the Bill was first unveiled in March. Former senior police officers have also spoken out against the Bill, saying that it will burden police further and subject them to greater political pressure.
The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said, during the Bill’s second reading in the Lords, that it failed to maintain the “delicate balance” between maintaining order and allowing the public to exercise its freedom.
Having served as a curate in a parish that contained the Orgreave coking plant during the miners’ strike, where one of the most violent clashes between pickets and police occurred, he said: “The legacy of over-aggressive and politically directed policing there, a legacy of broken trust, persists to this day, especially in the continuing absence of a proper inquiry.”
He said that the new Bill would make it “less lawful to protest than to party”.
He continued: “As I read it, a commercial venture such as the much-loved but noticeably loud pop concert that took place two miles from my home — and very audibly from my bedroom — last weekend would have better protection than if those same citizens had been meeting to campaign against a major injustice. Both events may cause nuisance, but it is a strange set of priorities that make it less lawful to protest than to party.”
He was deeply troubled by the clauses on the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people, he said. “It grieves me that longstanding members of, and contributors to, the rural community are seen as having less right to live in the countryside than someone who has made their wealth in the city and can now afford to buy their trophy home in their chosen idyll.
“I do not begrudge the rewards of success, but I believe that Britain owes Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people a duty to provide legal sites, adequate in number and appropriate in location, in the places where they, by generations of living and working, belong. That we seek to address their belonging through a policing Bill rather than a Bill to require land to be made available for sites suggests to me that we have our priorities seriously wrong.”
The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, also spoke in the Lords debate, raising concerns about the sentencing of mothers, and the damage to children that resulted, and the expansion of whole-life sentences to younger offenders. “Treating children as children is paramount,” she said.
The Bill will now pass to the committee stage for further scrutiny.