ACEVO is a member of the Police Bill Alliance, a coalition of civil society organisations working to change certain elements of the bill. As the bill reaches a crucial stage, policy officer Maisie Hulbert summarises some of the key points and the next stages of influencing. Thanks to Kathleen Christie for providing the key information included in this blog.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes major government proposals on crime and justice in England and Wales. ACEVO and numerous other organisations across civil society have concerns about the contents of the bill. The Police Bill Alliance is an informal alliance of many of these organisations, with founding members including Liberty, Bond, Friends, Families and Travellers, Quakers in Britain, and Friends of the Earth.
The Alliance is primarily working to influence Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill, which are the areas containing concerning proposals which would infringe on democracy and discriminate against minority groups. Some of the key issues are outlined briefly below but you can read more detailed briefings on the Police Bill Alliance’s website about the impacts on specific communities.
Key issues in parts 3 and 4
Part 3 of the Bill contains proposals which would impact protest and demonstration, increasing powers to ban or police protests because they are noisy or disruptive. It increases sentences for breaking these rules which risks hugely over-criminalising people who campaign and protest. This is particularly concerning as there is no longer a requirement for the police to prove that a protestor is aware of restrictions on a protest; only that they ‘ought to know’. Crackdowns on noisy protests, numbers and locations of protest risk sending numerous campaigners to prison for conditions they were not aware of, increasing pressure on the criminal justice system further and ignoring the requests of numerous police bodies who say they don’t need these additional powers.
This is a huge concern for civil society organisations who have a proud history of campaigning for social change. Protest is one of the key ways campaigners make their voices heard, and has led to vital changes such as women’s right to vote and the formation of the Disability Discrimination Act, now the Equality Act. Had these protests been curtailed, such essential social changes may not have come about. ACEVO has advocated for many years on behalf of our members’ right to campaign, and we are highly concerned about the continued squeezing of civic space which this bill would enshrine in law.
Part 4 of the Bill disproportionately targets Gypsy and Traveller Communities by criminalising trespass. This is a direct attack on their way of life, and could result in children becoming homeless, huge fines, and people going to prison. There are already significant powers in place for police to use to tackle anti-social behaviour and police have repeatedly stated that they do not need or want further powers. There is a serious lack of stopping places and sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities to utilise, and the issue will not be solved by trapping people in a cycle of eviction and criminalisation – the government must provide more sites for these communities to use.
There are also significant concerns that this part of the bill will discourage people from driving and accessing the countryside, due to a fear of being arrested for taking part in activities such as wild camping. Homeless people who have resorted to living in a car or vehicle may also be unnecessarily criminalised. This section of the bill over-criminalises travelling communities and will worsen existing discrimination against one of the most persecuted communities in the UK.
Next steps of influencing
The Bill is currently at Lords Committee stage, when members of the House of Lords work through the bill line by line in detail. The Police Bill Alliance have worked directly with the House of Lords to influence specific amendments to the bill, which are now being discussed. We are expecting report stage (when all members have a further opportunity to examine the bill and propose further amendments) to start in the last week of November. After this, the third reading is scheduled for the week beginning 6 December, when the amendments will be debated for the final time. We are expecting ping-pong (when amendments are passed back and forth between the House of Lords and the House of Commons) to start in mid-December, just before recess. This will likely continue into January, and then we will know which elements of the bill will pass into law.
There are several things you can do to support our work influencing this bill:
- Share any content around the bill using the hashtag #PolicingBill to increase reach
- Follow @PoliceBillAll on Twitter and share their threads and summaries throughout committee stage; this is vital in increasing awareness of the proposals within the bill, and the impacts they will have on marginalised communities
- Consider how the bill might impact the communities you work with, including more broadly your campaigning and influencing work and the right to protest as part of a healthy democracy
- Get in touch with us or with the Police Bill Alliance if you have any materials in this area which you would like to share, or if you have questions about the bill