Policing bill ‘will put young people at risk’, hundreds of experts warn

Social workers and doctors fear they will be made to inform on vulnerable children

Jon Sharman
Monday 13 September 2021 00:01
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Related video: Theresa May raises concerns about controversial new policing bill

“Oppressive” elements of the new policing bill must be dropped so doctors and social workers are not forced to inform on vulnerable young people, more than 600 experts have warned in a letter to Priti Patel.

Ministers want to create a rule obliging public agencies such as schools and GP surgeries to disclose information about service users to reduce serious violence, using the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is to be debated in the House of Lords this week.

As part of plans to overhaul the justice system and cut offending, they also intend to create serious violence reduction orders to make it easier for police to carry out checks on people who have been previously convicted of carrying knives.

However, some 665 GPs, nurses, teachers, and social and youth workers have now written to Ms Patel, warning her scheme will only result in more harm.

They wrote: “We believe that this bill will hinder our ability as frontline workers to effectively support the people with whom we work by eroding relationships of trust and duties of confidentiality. Most importantly, it will expand the criminalisation, surveillance, and punishment of already-over-policed communities.”

The group fears the legislation will make them complicit in surveillance and force them to hand over personal data even if it conflicts with their professional duties. They argue this will prevent young people, particularly those who are not white, from accessing vital services.

They also say the serious violence reduction orders will give police an “individualised, suspicionless” stop and search power with minimal safeguards, with people likely to face “intrusive monitoring”.

Existing stop and search powers, which the government expanded this year by relaxing rules on searching people without suspicion, are already used disproportionately to frisk people who are not white, with black people nine times more likely to be stopped by police officers than white people. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found in February that forces were unable to explain the disparity.

Jun Pang, a policy officer at Liberty, said peers must reject the policing bill and urged ministers to change course. She said: “The new police powers it creates will lead to harassment and oppressive monitoring of young people, working class people and people of colour, especially black people, in particular, and expand existing measures that will funnel more people into the criminal punishment system.”

And Gavin Moorghen, of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “The duty of confidentiality is crucial to our ability to protect people’s dignity and privacy, foster relationships of trust, and deliver high quality care.

“The policing bill may soon force us to betray the hard-earned trust and relationships we have built with young people, as well as our professional duties, by requiring us to be complicit in their criminalisation, surveillance and punishment. The only effective approach to serious violence is to focus on the root causes such as poverty, racism, and other forms of structural injustice.”

The Independent has contacted the Home Office for comment.

Monday’s letter was not the first volley of criticism aimed at the policing bill. In March some 700 leading legal academics told Boris Johnson his planned restrictions on the right to protest were “draconian” and should be scrapped because they represented “an alarming extension of state control over legal assembly”. The new powers had not been requested by police, The Independent reported at the time.

MPs waved through the legislation in July.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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