What you need to know about the proposed policing bill
As MPs are voting on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill this month, concerns are growing about its potential implications. If passed in its current form, it could cement wide-reaching police and state powers originally introduced in a Covid-19 state of emergency.
Drivers of the bill endorse the heavy-handed approach used by the police in the name of public health and safety. This comes amidst findings of a parliamentary inquiry that the excessive use of force police against protestors in 2021 breached the protestors’ fundamental human rights. As we continue to witness the police’s unequal application of the law in different communities, it begs the question – whose health and safety does the bill seek to protect?
The first draft of the policing bill was originally introduced in March 2021, in response to recent protest movements including the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. This is particularly alarming considering Netpol’s findings that the policing of the Black Lives Matters protests was institutionally racist. It also notes historic disproportionate targeting of Black-led demonstrations and black protestors. Unequal policing was further highlighted in recent statistics that saw an increase of 24% in stop and searches in 2020/2021, which disproportionately impacted already overpoliced communities.
The bill would have wide-reaching implications on the policing of Roma and Traveller communities as it seeks to turn trespass into a criminal act. As a result, these communities in the UK would face imprisonment, fines, or confiscation of their homes for residing in a place not “designated” to them.
What does the bill actually say?
Whilst this is not a complete list, the new measures in the bill include:
- Additional powers for the police to stop-and-search people and vehicles
- Allowing the home secretary to ban “seriously disruptive” protests and impose conditions such as noise limits, arguably defeating the very purpose of protests, the goal of which are to inherently “disrupt” everyday life to evoke public attention.
- A new offence of trespass, strengthening police powers to criminalise Roma and Traveller communities and further offences that carry lengthy prison sentences such as:
- A maximum prison sentence of 10 years for damaging memorials, such as the toppling of the slave owner Edward Colston statue in 2020
- A maximum prison sentence of 51 weeks for protestors who lock themselves onto another person or an object
- A maximum sentence of 12 months for obstructing infrastructure such as roads, railways, and airports
Why there is cause for concern, even for those who do not regularly engage in public protest:
The right to protest is essential to keep government powers in check because they allow political participation of all groups, particularly those not represented in higher forms of government. Beyond the direct restrictions to the right to protest, ambiguous language used throughout the bill grants additional discretionary powers to public authorities. This would inadvertently increase policing and restrictions of already overpoliced communities. If the bill passes in its current form, it will have a chilling effect on people’s ability to peacefully express public critique and challenge the actions of government and public authorities.
For advice about making a claim against the state, our expert team of police action, civil liberties and human rights solicitors are experienced in bringing cases against the police. Please contact them on 020 7632 4300 to discuss your concerns.