UNITED KINGDOM: Policing Bill about to become ‘a very damaging piece of legislation’ for human rights defenders

After a long ‘ping-pong‘ between the two Houses of the British parliament, on Tuesday 26 April 2022 the House of Lords voted through the final measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (known as the Policing Bill), which is therefore about to become law after receiving Royal Assent this week.

Although the huge civil society mobilisation over last year “ultimately caused huge Government defeats as the House of Lords ripped many of the worst proposals out of the Bill”, CSOs are deeply disappointed and angry at this “very damaging piece of legislation”. NGO Liberty called it “a human rights disaster”. The Policing Bill gives the police more powers to shut down “noisy” protests and to monitor and criminalise people (which will hit the marginalised and racialised communities hardest). Besides, the Bill sets new ‘trespass offences’ that pose a serious threat to traveller people’s way of life.

The Police Bill Alliance, an informal coalition of more than 350 British organisations that opposed the bill’s assault on freedom, rights and marginalised communities, issued the following joint statement in response: 

“Today is a dark day for democracy. Despite over a year of relentless opposition, the Government today passed measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that will undermine everybody’s right to protest and criminalise the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities.

With the Bill’s passage police have the unprecedented power to impose noise-based restrictions on protests, greater powers to restrict static assemblies and limit protest outside parliament, which gives the state the power to prevent all our voices being heard by those who make our laws.

It allows police to impose large fines and jail sentences on anyone who strays from conditions imposed on a protest, even if they did not know those conditions were in place. This will not only punish those taking part, but may deter people from joining peaceful protests in the future.

The Bill will also criminalise Gypsy, Traveller and nomadic families who have no place to stop and rest. The chronic lack of safe stopping places means the Government has ultimately chosen punishment over provision. It’s cruel to use the full strength of the law to tell people where they can’t go, but offer nowhere they can go. 

However, over the course of the campaign we have succeeded in removing some of the most draconian measures impacting protests (such as Serious Disruption Prevention Orders aka ‘Protest Banning Orders’ or suspicionless stop and search of protesters).

Groups came together across sectors from human rights and criminal justice, to environment, faith and international development, to stand in solidarity with Gyspy and Traveller communities. 

Tens of thousands of people across the country took to the streets, nearly a million people signed petitions, hundreds of organisations rallied around the cause, and parliamentary champions in both Houses spoke out. We did not allow the Government to push this anti-democratic bill through quietly and will continue to defend and promote democracy.”

The NGO Friends, Family and Travellers (FFT), which has been defending nomadic people rights in Britain for over 25 years, said that the Policing Bill will be “devastating” for the travelling way of life. Part 4 of the Bill will see those who ‘trespass with intent to reside’ charged with a new criminal offence: failure to comply could mean time in prison, a fine of up to 2500 GBP or confiscation of vehicles.