UK: Mass call from campaigners to protect rights ahead of debate on Police Bill

The House of Lords must make significant changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill if rights are to be upheld, says an open letter to the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Justice signed by over 350 civil society organisations, including Statewatch. If passed into law, the Bill would massively restrict protest rights, facilitate racist and discriminatory policing, and unnecessarily push more people into the criminal justice system.


  • 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 tomorrow [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.’

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.’

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

Letter from 350+ organisations available here or here as a PDF

The letter was organised by Liberty, Bond, Friends of the Earth, Quakers in Britain, and Friends, Families and Travellers: https://policebillalliance.org

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

Additional and full quotes include:

  • Former Home Secretary, Lord David Blunkett, said: “This 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.”“It will leave a lasting and toxic legacy for this government because it is not only the centre and left of politics who care about protest. It is across the political spectrum. Those who object to planning applications or to fracking proposals or to European Super Leagues do not come together on the basis of party lines: they come together on the basis of an issue affecting them or their community.”
  • Lord Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat Peer and former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: "The Conservative's Policing Bill represents a fundamental attack on people's rights. It also 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. This 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 being proposed by the Government embody the hostile environment towards Gypsy and Traveller people. The Government has chosen to penalise and criminalise Gypsies and Travellers without offering a speck of realism on how exactly it plans to appropriately accommodate these communities. For too long nomadic communities have been demonised and scapegoated and such draconian legislation must not go unchallenged. This 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.”
  • Sacha Deshmukh, CEO, Amnesty UK, said: “Rattled by democratic protests, ministers have drawn up sweeping new policing powers which you’d fully expect to see in the pages of a novel about a future dystopian Britain. This deeply authoritarian bill hands police vast new powers to fine, remove or arrest ordinary people who simply wish to peacefully protest. The right to protest is fundamental to a free and fair society, and it shouldn’t be down to a government minister to decide which protests are permitted. This bill is highly likely to further entrench racism and discrimination in British policing. These sweeping new police powers are likely to be disproportionately deployed against black people who are already much more likely to be stopped and searched, to be Tasered, or even to die in police custody. The Policing Bill is a calculated attack on our bedrock basic rights, and if passed would diminish the UK’s standing in the world.”
  • 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.”
  • Oliver Robertson, Head of Witness and Worship, Quakers in Britain, 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.”
  • Kathy Evans, Chief Executive, Children England, said: “For those too young to vote, peaceful protest is an especially vital means of expression. This Bill has the potential to criminalise children and young people for trying to communicate their concerns and priorities in one of the only ways they have - and if we are in any doubt as to how important those concerns are for the whole of society, we need only look at the profound impact of youth action on climate issues, or their fight for racial equality in the Black Lives Matter movement. A society that says it respects children’s rights and wellbeing cannot legislate to suppress their voices, and in doing so would usher in a darker future for us all.”
  • Vicky Browning, Chief Executive, ACEVO, said: “Charities have a proud history of pursuing much-needed social and policy change through protest and campaigns, often on behalf of the most disadvantaged communities in society. Unfortunately the wide-ranging powers outlined in the PCSC Bill carry a serious risk of infringing further on civic space and dissuading charities from campaigning. It is vital that in a healthy democracy, civil society leaders have the confidence and freedom to campaign in pursuit of their charitable objectives. ACEVO supports the call for the government to rethink its approach and ensure the fundamental rights of people are not further undermined.”

Breakdown of main signatory groups as follows:

  • Human rights / civil liberties - 38
  • Environment / Climate Justice - 32
  • Trade Unions - 28
  • International Development - 23
  • Health / Mental Health - 20
  • Equalities – Gypsy, Roma, Traveller - 16
  • Equalities – Migrants’ Rights, Refugee & Asylum Support - 16
  • Religious / Faith - 14
  • Violence Against Women and Girls - 15
  • Children And Youth - 12

Useful briefings on the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill

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For more information, please contact Kevin Keith, media [at] policebillalliance.org


Image: Bob Bob, CC BY 2.0

 

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