Police Bill will undermine democracy and discriminate against minorities, charities warn

A coalition of membership bodies have warned that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will undermine democracy and discriminate against minorities.

The Police Bill Alliance is an informal association of civil society groups that oppose the bill's “assault on freedom, rights and marginalised communities”.

Founding members include Acevo, Bond, Liberty, Friends, Families and Travellers, Quakers in Britain and Friends of the Earth.

The alliance builds on an earlier letter sent to the justice secretary by more than 350 civil society organisations that called on the government “to fundamentally rethink its approach” to the bill.

In a blog post, Acevo warned that the bill was reaching a crucial stage and the alliance was working to influence parts three and four of the bill, which it said contained “concerning proposals which would infringe on democracy and discriminate against minority groups”.

Part three contained proposals, said Acevo, that could affect protest and demonstration by increasing powers to ban or police protests because they were noisy or disruptive.

“It risks 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.”

Acevo said it had advocated for many years on behalf of its members’ right to campaign, and if the civic space continued to be squeezed in this way, vital changes such as women’s right to vote and the formation of the Disability Discrimination Act (now the Equality Act) might not have come about.

It also warned that part four of the bill would criminalise trespass in a way that could be considered a direct attack on the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities that could result in children becoming homeless, huge fines, and people going to prison.

The body also has significant concerns that this part of the bill would 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 had resorted to living in a car or vehicle could also be unnecessarily criminalised, said Acevo.

The bill is at the committee stage in the House of Lords, where peers can scrutinise the proposed legislation in detail. Acevo said the alliance had worked directly with members to influence specific amendments to the bill.

The report stage of the bill starts at the end of this month before a third reading is scheduled in the week beginning 6 December, when the amendments will be debated for the final time.

Acevo is encouraging charities to “consider how the bill might impact the communities they work with, including more broadly their campaigning and influencing work and the right to protest as part of a healthy democracy”.

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