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Policing bill threatens protest rights, say campaigners

A number of free rights campaign groups, including Liberty, have warned that the government’s new criminal justice legislation risks stifling dissent, criminalising Gypsy and Traveller communities, and subjecting marginalised communities to profiling and even more disproportionate policing.

The Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill introduces a raft of eye-catching changes to the criminal justice system. While some have been widely applauded, some of the proposed changes have been met with criticism, including restrictions on protest, new stop and search powers, a ‘Prevent-style’ duty on knife crime, and a move to criminalise trespass.

Gracie Bradley, Liberty Director, said: “It’s a primary duty of government to ensure that our communities are safe and free. But parts of this Bill will facilitate discrimination and undermine protest, which is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. We should all be able to stand up for what we believe in, yet these proposals would give the police yet more powers to clamp down on protest. They risk stifling dissent and making it harder for us to hold the powerful to account.

“If enacted, these proposals would expose already marginalised communities to profiling and disproportionate police powers through the expansion of stop and search, and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities may face increased police enforcement through the criminalisation of trespass.

“While we are still in the grip of a pandemic that has changed all our lives and handed enormous powers to the government, it is shocking that this executive has chosen now to launch such a broad assault on our rights under the guise of safer communities. We must reject the politics of division that the government is proposing through this Bill, and protect each other and our ability to stand up to power.”

Following the recent handling of a vigil for Sarah Everard, human rights charities, unions and faith communities, have again stressed that legislation would have a hugely detrimental effect on civil liberties, and called for the government to ‘fundamentally rethink its approach’.

In a letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, more than 150 organisations claim the 307-page Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill is being rushed through Parliament before people have ‘been able to fully understand its profound implications’.

Signatories to the letter include Liberty, Big Brother Watch, Unite, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Unlock Democracy, Cafod and Extinction Rebellion local groups.

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