The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC Bill) is a Bill of enormous and alarming proportions. Encompassing a crack down on everything from the right to protest to expanding the use of stop and search powers, the Bill constitutes draconian measures which will entrench racial discrimination and curtail civil liberties. The Bill seriously compounds the discrimination faced by marginalised communities – particularly Black men and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people – and exacerbates the disparities that already exist throughout the criminal justice system.
Last month, 3 young adults from racialised and minoritised backgrounds, Chelsea, Anthony and Stefan, came together to tell MPs about what they feared would happen if the Bill were to pass. They painted a desperately bleak picture of a Bill which has hugely dangerous ramifications for the most marginalised in society. What’s worse, however, is that they don’t feel that their concerns are being listened to by those in power. You can watch the event in full here.
In fact, and as Chelsea identified in her reflections on the Bill, referring to the Government’s Equality Impact Assessment undertaken to consider the impact of the Bill on Black and ethnic minority people, “this Government was very happy to admit that they know that this Bill will disproportionately affect Travellers and Black people, and they don’t care.”
If passed, Part 2 of the Bill will create a new Serious Violence Duty that would force bodies such as youth services, local authorities and education providers to collaborate with the police by passing over information they may have pertaining to individuals the police deem to be involved in serious violence. We are concerned that the collection, retention, and use of data about individuals will be heavily fuelled by racial stereotypes, many of which centre on the ill-defined and porous concept of the ‘gang’. This is contrary to a person’s right to non-discrimination, as set in the public sector equality duty. The failings of the London Metropolitan Police Service’s (MPS) Gangs Matrix are instructive in this regard. The stark statistics on the Gangs Matrix, revealed in a report published in 2018 by Amnesty International, lay bare the over-identification of people of colour as gang affiliated. At the time of publication, 72%of individuals on the MPS’ Gangs Matrix were Black, yet the MPS' own figures show that just 27% of those purportedly responsible for serious youth violence are Black. And, those with first hand experience of the criminal justice system say these measures will do nothing more than severely hinder the relationship between marginalised young people and the people providing them with care.
"...children won’t trust their teachers if they’re telling the police information… It’ll be like a police station interview, you might as well just say ‘No comment’... Schools will feel like a prison" - Stefan
Part 10 of the Bill will allow the police to stop and search individuals without the need to form reasonable suspicion, under the creation of new Serious Violence Reduction Orders. As former Prime Minister Theresa May identified when looking to reform these powers, and as research by community groups have consistently shown us, suspicionless stop and search powers are ineffective and liable to misuse. Crucially, there is also lacking evidence to suggest they have any crime-reducing effect. In 2012, the Met Police reduced non-suspicion stop and searches by 90% and stabbings and shootings fell by a third and 40% respectively.
As well as being ineffective in reducing crime, stop and search is a major contributor of racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system. As of 2021, Black people are 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Being stopped and searched is a mentally and physically traumatising experience, especially when it occurs on a regular basis.
"You just need to be Black to be suspicious … the Bill gives the police more right to put their hands on people ... it creates a stigma on that person as well" - Stefan
Part 4 of the Bill introduces measures which will disrupt the lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities, through criminalising trespass and giving police powers to remove people's vehicles which, in the case of Gypsy and Traveller communities, is often their homes. When the Government consulted on these proposals, most police forces stated that they in fact oppose criminalising trespass and recognised the need for more authorised sites. These proposals ignore the fact that there simply aren’t enough authorised sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities to live on.
"We have very few Traveller sites. There’s something like 2,000 people waiting for something like 50 pitches.The issues that are affecting Traveller housing ties into the issue affecting housing for everyone" - Chelsea
Rather than prioritising policy solutions that focus on the root causes of many of these issues - from accessible housing, to authorised sites and the consequences of a decade of Government austerity measures - the Government have instead chosen to target marginalised communities with measures that would criminalise and incarcerate them, exacerbating the very issues the Government alleges the PCSC Bill seeks to resolve - from serious violence, to unauthorised encampments. There are, and can be, other ways.
As the bill returns to the House of Lords today, the Government must listen to, and work in conjunction with, the communities that are facing these harms and create strong, sustainable solutions that work for all of us.
Emmanuelle Andrews is Policy and Campaigns Manager at Liberty
Nannette Youssef is Policy Officer at the Runnymede Trust
Image from Flickr