The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was introduced to parliament on the 6th July 2021.

It's a wide-ranging Bill, several parts of which affect children and young people. Whilst Children England does not have the capacity to lobby independently on this legislation, we are concerned about various aspects of it and support the coalition work that is being led by several human rights and criminal justice organisations.

Concerns include:

  • The criminalisation of non-violent protest with sentences of up to 10 years
  • Police-led data-sharing that could damage trust in public services
  • New stop-and-search powers that could exacerbate racial inequalities in the justice system
  • The criminalisation of traveller encampments

The Bill is one of the reasons the UK was added to the human rights watchlist maintained by Civicus, "due to a rapid decline in fundamental civic freedoms."

Our comment on the implications of Part 3 (Public order) of the Bill:

"For those too young to vote, peaceful protest is an especially vital means of expression. This Bill has the potential to criminalise children and young people for trying to communicate their concerns and priorities in one of the only ways they have - and if we are in any doubt as to how important those concerns are for the whole of society, we need only look at the profound impact of youth action on climate issues, or their fight for racial equality in the Black Lives Matter movement. A society that says it respects children's rights and wellbeing cannot legislate to suppress their voices, and in doing so would usher in a darker future for us all."

It should also be noted that there are provisions to welcome, such as Clause 45 which amends the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to include those teaching sports or faith to under 18-year-olds in the definition of 'positions of trust', meaning that they will be committing an offence if they engage in sexual activity with a child they teach. 

Below is a hub of information about the Bill and its passage through parliament that we will endeavour to keep up to date for our members and the wider children and families sector. You can also follow the Police Bill Alliance on Twitter.

Please note: If you have questions about a particular aspect of the Bill, please contact the staff and organisations named in the relevant briefing below - most of the briefings provide contact details at the end. We are hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed their expertise to enable civil society and parliamentarians to understand and try to improve this significant piece of legislation.

 

The Bill itself

- Visit the Bill's main page on the parliament website here.

- Read the full text of the Bill as introduced to parliament.

- See the current list of proposed amendments to the Bill.

 

Second Reading in the House of Lords

Briefings from civil society organisations

 

- The Alliance for Youth Justice published a briefing looking at both the impact of the Bill as it stands and what is missing from it.

In what is missing, the Alliance for Youth Justice looks at:

  • Raising the age of criminal responsibility
  • Ensuring custody as a last resort
  • Requiring courts to give their reasons for sentencing decisions
  • Ensuring those who allegedly commit offences as children are treated as children
  • Improving the legal framework around child criminal exploitation

The Alliance's concerns about the Bill as it stands include:

  • Legislation without appropriate consultation
  • The increasing the length and likelihood of custody for children
  • Introducing legislation that the government knows will increase racial and ethnic disparity
  • The move towards treating older children like adults
  • The embedding of live links in court proceedings without evaluation of their impact
  • The criminalisation of children for their part in non-violent protest

 

- Liberty published one of the fullest briefings on the Bill, covering Parts 2, 3, 4 & 10:

  • Part 2 - new Serious Violence duty
  • Part 3 - a radical restriction of protest rights
  • Part 4 - unauthorised encampments
  • Part 10 - Serious Violence Reduction Orders

 Of the legislation overall, it notes:

"Efforts on the part of civil society to oppose the Bill have produced diverse and strong coalitions united in solidarity to defend our cherished liberties, protect our ways of life, and safeguard our democratic institutions. More than half a million people and 250 organisations have written to the Home Secretary condemning the Bill, and opposition has continued to swell on domestic and international fronts—from environmental and trespass groups, to the violence against women and girls’ sector, to homelessness organisations, to lawyers and legal academics, to two UN Special Rapporteurs and Europe’s top human rights official. A recent poll by nfpSynergy revealed that 62% of people are concerned about plans to criminalise protest rights."

 

Quakers in Britain published a briefing on Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill. 

They expressed concerns about Part 3 including:

  • The police will have the power to ban an assembly for the first time ever.
  • The lowering of the thresholds by which conditions can be imposed on protests. For example the proposal to create a new, noise-related trigger to impose conditions (Clauses 55 and 56). Noise is an important part of protest and there is insufficient justification to impose this limit on the right to freedom of assembly.
  • Allowing police to apply any conditions to an assembly – not just location, duration or number of people allowed.

 The briefing also comments on the legislation's 'dangerous delegation of authority':

"We are concerned that the bill allows future Home Secretaries to determine the definition of what constitutes 'disruption' and decide whether protests can go ahead or not. We believe this is very dangerous and could contribute to the increasing suppression of dissent. The government has published draft indicative regulations on this, but they are still very vague, and could be replaced by future governments without primary legislation."

 

- A broad coalition including Quakers in Britain, Liberty and Friends, Families and Travellers also briefed peers on Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill.

On the provisions regarding Gypsy and Traveller encampments, it says:

"Part 4 seeks to enact the manifesto commitment to strengthen powers against encampments. However, this Bill misdiagnoses the root problem, as encampments are often the direct result of insufficient site provision and stopping places. Trapping people in a cycle of eviction and criminalisation will not create more places to camp. Allowing police to impound vehicles which are family homes will lead to serious hardship for entire families, including children. Evidence is clear that Gypsies and Travellers who have nowhere to lawfully stop face particularly high problems in terms of low life expectancy, high maternal mortality rates and low educational attainment."

 

- A briefing on Part 2 (the Serious Violence duty regarding data-sharing) and Part 10 (Serious Violence Reduction Orders) was published by Liberty, Amnesty International, Medact and others.

Of the Serious Violence data-sharing duty it says:

"Fundamentally, the imposition of a legal requirement on schools, health and social care providers, and youth services to share confidential information – including individuals’ personal schooling and healthcare data - to the police is likely to have a corrosive impact on hard-fought and longstanding relationships of trust, and severely damage service delivery. We have already seen the damaging consequences of such data-sharing in the context of Prevent and the Hostile Environment."

Of Serious Violence Reduction Orders it says:

"As is apparent from official data, there already exist extreme racial disparities in the rates of stop and search in this country. Communities of colour are already searched at significantly higher rates, with black people 9 times more likely to be subject to a stop and search than white people. Both in terms of who they are applied to and who bears the brunt of their enforcement, SVROs will reflect, deepen and compound the discrimination marginalised communities face at every juncture of the criminal justice system."

 

Second Reading as it happened

You can watch peers discuss the Bill at its second reading in the House of Lords on the 14th of September. Over 60 peers requested to speak, and the Police Bill Alliance summarised the debate on Twitter.

  • Lord Falconer (Labour) criticised the lack of time for scrutiny of such a wide-ranging Bill, and its attack on the Traveller way of life
  • Lord Paddick (Lib Dem) questioned how much the public could trust a system that could sentence someone who assaulted a shop worker to two years in prison but someone who damaged flowers at a protest to ten years in prison
  • Lord Judge (Crossbench) and Lord Blencathra (Conservative) questioned the constitutionality of the Bill, which delegates huge amounts of detail and definition to regulations drafted by the Home Secretary rather than incorporating them into the Bill for parliamentary scrutiny
  • The Bishop of Gloucester emphasised the need to 'treat children as children' and questioned the outcome of increasing sentences for young people and for mothers
  • Several peers pointed out that non-violent protests are inherently disruptive, and cited the need, as well as the human right, to express dissent in this way when parliament was failing to act on an issue
  • Baroness Chakrabarti (Labour) described Part 3 as affecting 'everybody' in that protesters are ordinary people, not militants or criminals, and Part 4 as unacceptably targeting Travellers. The Bill would, she said 'pour lighter fluid on culture wars.'

 

The next stage of the Bill:

  • Committee Stage in the House of Lords, taking place on October 20th, 25th and 27th