June 11 2024
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‘Assault on our rights’: new justice bill threatens clampdown on protest and ‘runaway’ sentence inflation

‘Assault on our rights’: new justice bill threatens clampdown on protest and ‘runaway’ sentence inflation

Pic: Andy Aitchison, ©PrisonImage

Police are set to receive greater powers to control ‘Lefty protests’ that are a ‘threat to our way of life’ under a bill introduced to parliament yesterday which also increase the number of the number of whole-life sentences and increase jail terms for sexual and violent offenders. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill confers upon police the right to dictate start and finish times for public protests, and set maximum noise levels.

The bill also proposes to create an offence to catch protestors who unknowingly breach restrictions of which they ought to be aware. Obstructing entrances to parliament and the courts are set to become separate offences. Writing for the Daily Mail, the Home secretary Priti Patel and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland claimed the new measures would allow police officers to ‘safely manage’ protests which ‘threaten public order or stop people from getting on with their daily lives’. A Home Office source told the Mail about the impact of protests by ‘crusty eco-crusaders’ on freedom of speech. ‘[The]  disruption caused by some Lefty protests has exposed an emerging threat to our way of life, our economy and the livelihoods of the hard-working majority.’

Announcing the introduction of the Bill, Patel said: ‘On becoming Home Secretary, I vowed to back the police to cut crime and make our streets safer. This Bill delivers on that promise – equipping the police with the tools they need to stop violent criminals in their tracks, putting the thugs who assault officers behind bars for longer and strengthening the support officers and their families receive.’

The proposals come just six weeks after four activists accused of toppling the statue of slave trader Edward Colston pleaded not guilty to criminal damage. The statue, which was thrown into the Avon river last June, is estimated to have a value of £3,750. As it stands, the courts cannot impose a prison term of more than three months where the value of damage caused is under £5,000. Under the new proposals, criminal damage to a memorial of any value will carry custodial sentences of up to 10 years, and fines of up to £2,500.

The bill also includes proposals for whole life sentences for people who kill children, and the end of automatic release halfway through prison terms for violent and sexual offenders. Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, accused the government of ‘using sentencing legislation to play politics’. ‘Sentences for serious crime have been getting much longer for two decades now, turning our prisons into places of despair’, he said. ‘But there is not a shred of evidence to show that this runaway inflation in punishment reduces crime’.

In response to the bill, chair of the Bar Council Derek Sweeting QC commented: ‘ ‘The public are entitled to expect that tackling serious crime will be a priority, but politicians have to join up the dots. A crackdown on crime will mean more work for hard pressed courts and those who work in them. Decades of underfunding and mounting backlogs will not be turned around by increases in police numbers and tougher sentences.’ The Bill proposes new rules to end the need for court parties to ‘travel unnecessarily to court by allowing criminal courts to maximise the use of video and audio technology as it develops’.

The civil liberties group Liberty denounced the government’s crackdown on protests as an ‘assault on our rights’, further stating that ‘they risk stifling dissent and making it harder for us to hold the powerful to account’. David Lammy MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, said: ‘A decade of Conservative cuts and failed ideology has left us with a justice system that is failing victims of crime and creating endless cycles of re-offence.’ He added that the ‘relatively light sentence’ Thomas Griffiths received after the horrific killing of Ellie Gould ‘shows that some criminals deserve tougher sentences’.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

According to the government, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to ‘equip the police with the powers and tools they need to protect themselves and the public, while overhauling sentencing laws to keep serious sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer, and placing greater emphasis on rehabilitation to better help offenders to turn their lives around and prevent further crimes’.

Measures include: widening laws to prevent adults in ‘positions of trust’ from engaging in sexual relationships with young people under the age of 18 ‘bringing sports coaches and religious leaders in line with other occupations such as teachers and doctors’; new court orders to ‘boost efforts to crack down on knife crime, as well as make it easier to stop and search those suspected of carrying a blade’; whole life orders (WLOs) for child killers

  • Whole life Orders for the premeditated murder of a child as well as allowing judges to hand out this maximum punishment to 18 to 20-year olds in exceptional cases to reflect the gravity of a crime (e.g, terrorism);
  • New powers to halt the automatic early release of offenders who pose a danger to the public;
  • For children who commit murder, new starting points for deciding the minimum amount of time reducing the opportunities for over 18s who committed murder as a child to have their minimum term reviewed;
  • Ending the halfway release of offenders sentenced to between four and seven years in prison for serious violent and sexual offences such as rape, manslaughter and GBH with intent. Instead they will have to spend two-thirds of their time behind bars;
  • Changing the threshold for passing a sentence below the minimum term for repeat offenders, including key serious offences such as ‘third strike’ burglary which carries a minimum three-year custodial sentence and ‘two strike’ knife possession which has a minimum 6-month sentence for adults, making it less likely that a court will depart from theses minimum terms;
  • Reforming criminal records disclosure to reduce the time period people have to declare previous non-violent, sexual or terrorist convictions to employers;
  • Introducing life sentences for killer drivers.
  • Tougher community sentences which double the amount of time offenders can be subject to curfew restrictions to two years;
  • Extended ‘positions of trusts’ laws to protect teenagers from abuse by making it illegal for sports coaches and religious leaders from engaging in sexual activity with 16 and 17-year-olds;
  • New rules to end the need for participants to travel unnecessarily to court by allowing criminal courts to maximise the use of video and audio technology as it develops;
  • Enshrining open justice principles by allowing for remote observers – using video and audio technology – across the vast majority of our courts and tribunals improving public access and transparency;
  • New stop and search powers against convicted knife offensive weapons offenders designed to ensure offenders are steered away from crime and if they persist in carrying a knife or an offensive weapon, that they are more likely to be caught and put in prison.
  • A legal duty on local authorities, the police, criminal justice agencies, health and fire and rescue services to tackle serious violence through sharing data and intelligence.
  • Doubling the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from 12 months to 2 years.

Additional reporting by Jon Robins


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