Yesterday the police began to deploy the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (PCSC).
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities face draconian new restrictions on their cultural heritage and way of life. Part 4 of the Act criminalises trespass, giving police additional powers to close down any unauthorised encampments, and to seize vehicles (ie homes) for up to 3 months, (or longer in the case of criminal proceedings).
The problem this law does not begin to address is that there are not near enough legal and suitable stopping places, a fact acknowledged by the National Police Chief’s Council who advised against this legislation.
The UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission warned that the new law “cannot circumvent the Equality Act 2010” and is likely to be discriminatory in application. A Court of Appeal ruling in 2020 stopped Council authorities from issuing blanket bans on encampments, because there aren’t enough designated transit sites for travelling communities.
Criminalising and marginalising communities while not imposing a duty on local authorities to negotiate suitable stopping points sets a precedent not just for travellers, but sends out a terrifying signal and echoes of history to all of us.
The PCSC of course also introduces new crimes for protesting, giving police a huge amount of discretion in ill-defined language to impose restrictions and shut down all but the most polite and pointless demonstrations.
New regulation covers everything from large-scale Extinction Rebellion-style protests, right down to specific new conditions on single-person protests.
Last week, the colourful anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray was approached by a police officer offering him free advice on how his protest is likely to come into conflict with the new laws. Yesterday his Twitter profile was trending as a police operation consisting of several officers wasted time and resource throughout the day, finally confiscating his mobile sound systems, issuing a summons, and following him round Westminster.
On the same day, the Metropolitan Police force was placed under ‘special measures’.
The Network for Police Monitoring have some handy advice about the way the new laws may be deployed AND resisted.
Yesterday’s farce in Westminster (20 police surrounding Steve Bray at one point) reminds us of the year 2005 when the Blair government brought in new protest restrictions around Parliament. The regulations, enshrined in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) were aimed directly at controlling Brian Haw’s long-term protest encampment.