Police, Crime and Sentencing and Courts Act comes into force
This legislation criminalises the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities - and we also have major concerns around changes to the right to protest
As of 28 June 2022, the contents of the Police, Crime and Sentencing and Courts Act are implemented - and there are a new number of criminal offences that social workers and the wider public should be aware of.
Part 4 of the Act focuses on ‘unauthorised encampments’ which makes it illegal to use sites, without authorisation, that are often used by the traveller community. It will see those who ‘trespass with intent to reside’ potentially facing time in prison, a £2500 fine and/or the confiscation of their vehicle(s), which in practice is the confiscation of their home and possessions.
This legislation criminalises the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities, which is discrimination. The legislation says that residing on an ‘unauthorised encampment’ is an offence even if there is just a “risk” of criminal damage or public nuisance.
Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) is a leading national charity that works to end racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and to protect their right to pursue a nomadic way of life. FFT has produced a short guide which explains the process:
“The new offence applies if a notice is served by either the police or the occupier of the land (which means the person entitled to possession of the land which could be a lessee or licensee as well as the actual landowner) or a representative of the occupier asking you to leave. The notice has to be served on a person or persons residing or intending to reside on land without the consent of the occupier in or with at least one vehicle. A vehicle can include the caravan and the towing vehicle and even a barrel top wagon.
“The conditions for serving the notice are that significant damage and/or disruption and/or distress have been caused or are likely to be caused. The offence is committed if a person served with the notice (which can be given in writing or orally) fails to leave the land by the relevant deadline or returns to the same land within 12 months of the notice (an increase on the 3 months that applied in section 61 evictions, under the 1994 Act). Like section 61 evictions, very short deadlines are likely to be given.”
Local authorities also have a role in this, as the FFT guide states:
“Local authorities and other public bodies (including the police) should take account of welfare considerations before deciding whether to evict an encampment, as the existing Government guidance on unauthorised encampments (both in England and in Wales) remains in place.
“Where a local authority are the legal occupier and are considering serving a notice under the new section, they should consider whether there are alternative locations that you could be directed to, and this is especially in the context where Gypsies and Travellers are only stopping on encampments because of the total lack of authorised stopping places. If the local authority do not ask about these matters, it may be important to bring to their attention any welfare concerns and ask them about alternative locations.”
When the Act was first proposed as a Government Bill, BASW UK opposed the proposals and showed our solidarity with organisations such as FFT and other traveller groups who were campaigning against Part 4 which targets the GRT community. BASW Cymru’s National Director, Allison Hulmes, has been a key figure in raising awareness about the discrimination that the GRT community faces, and a key driver behind BASW’s opposition.
Right to protest
Also in the Act are measures which criminalise some protests, particularly where the protest may cause disruption.
There is now a ‘noise trigger’, and if a protest is too noisy that it becomes disruptive, it is no longer permitted. If you have ever visited Westminster, you will be familiar with the sight of protestors – either individuals or large groups – making noise that can often be audible from inside Westminster. But the level of noise is subjective to the police officer, which means that even a one-man protestor with a loud voice could be fined.
This Police Act severely restricts an individual’s right to protest and has strengthened police powers so that they can fine and arrest people for carrying out their right to protest.
Although the measures in the Act have come into force despite extensive opposition, it is still likely that they will be challenged in court under the Human Rights Act, particularly the parts on unauthorised encampments.