The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill could lead to the criminalisation of the nomadic way of life, a cross-party group of MPs and peers heard yesterday. The the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies and Travellers meeting was held to discuss the impact of the Bill on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The Bill introduces a new criminal offence where trespassers have the intent to reside, and empowers police to seize vehicles, and carries potential fine or imprisonment and proposals would also amend police powers of eviction under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, broadening the types of harm that can be caught to include damage, disruption and distress.
A briefing on the Bill issued on the 24 March by Abby Kirkby, Secretariat to the APPG, argued that the legislation would give the Police wide-ranging powers based on highly subjective criteria. Highlighting the disproportionate impact on minority and ethnic communities, which could bring the legislation in conflict with equality and human rights legislation, the briefing pointed out that Police Forces themselves disagree with the allocation of additional powers.
The Policing Bill will criminalise Gypsy, Roma & Traveller Communities way of life
Criminal sanctions deflect from the real issue. At the bare minimum, GRT communities need pitches where they can live safely & in a way that respects their nomadic way of life. Not criminalisation https://t.co/bxcmEqSXLH
— Liberty (@libertyhq) April 19, 2021
Meanwhile, concerns were raised that the Bill will entrench existing inequalities faced by the GRT communities, and that the Bill will serve to push Gypsies and Travellers into the criminal justice system. Speaking at the meeting, CLP solicitor Chris Johnson said: ‘You’re not immediately a criminal by this legislation, but you can very easily be made a criminal.’
The criminalisation of trespass was the subject of a debate at the House of Commons yesterday afternoon at 4:30, after a petition organised by author and policy coordinator for Rewilding Britain gained 134,000 signatures. MP for the City of Durham Mary Foy, an attendee of the APPG meeting, spoke at the debate: ‘We have a racism problem when a section of our society is blamed and targeted relentlessly… We should be honest about what this is, a political attack on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities.’