Lords Former Lord Chancellor says Priti Patel’s policing bill is ‘not proportionate’

Lord Falconer of Thornton said the bill will fail to improve the criminal justice system

Daniel Keane,Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 15 September 2021 11:21
<p>Lord Falconer was appointed shadow attorney general by Keir Starmer in April 2020</p>

Lord Falconer was appointed shadow attorney general by Keir Starmer in April 2020

A former Lord Chancellor has criticised the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC) as “not proportionate”, claiming that the legislation is a “scatter gun that won’t do enough for criminal justice”.

Lord Falconer of Thornton, Labour’s shadow attorney general, issued the warning during a second reading of the bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday afternoon as several peers raised concerns that it will curtail the right to protest.

The bill introduces new powers for police forces in England and Wales to restrict protests, and will allow authorities to impose time limits on demonstrations and maximum noise levels.

Under the proposed new laws, police can impose conditions on non-violent protests deemed to be too noisy and thereby causing “intimidation and harassment” or “serious unease” to the public. Those convicted of breaching conditions could face a fine or imprisonment.

Lord Falconer, who served as Lord Chancellor in Tony Blair’s cabinet, told the Lords that while the criminal justice system did need improvement, a “Christmas tree Bill of this size is not the way to deal with it”.

The Labour frontbencher also criticised the controversial proposed curbs on protests, highlighting the opposition to the measures by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR).

“To give the executive the power to ban demonstrations because they make excessive noise is not proportionate. You would expect demonstrations to make noise,” he said.

His concerns were echoed by Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, a Green party peer, who claimed the bill was “obviously not going to help the police”.

“If you can’t get police chiefs, UN special rapporteurs and the JCHR on your side then something is wrong with the bill,” she told the House of Lords.

“This bill only makes it more difficult for oppressed groups to have a voice in our society and it undermines democracy by undermining freedom of speech. It poses a threat to the core purpose of protest for people to be heard.”

Regarding the bill’s focus on noise levels at demonstrations, Baroness Jones suggested that the wording of the legislation was “too vague” and left too much open to interpretation by officers at the scene of a protest.

Several clauses in the legislation also target Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, by creating a new criminal offence of “residing on land without consent in a vehicle”, and broadening police powers to seize caravans and other property.

Commenting on this aspect of the Bill, Lord Falconer said: “This is an attack on the Roma or Gypsy way of life and it’s not necessary.

“This is a Bill that is simply a scatter gun that won’t do enough for criminal justice.”

The legislation, which was voted through Parliament by MPs in March, has been criticised by campaigners and sparked widespread ‘Kill the Bill’ protests earlier this year. It was drafted partly in response to disruptive action by environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion (XR).

Baron Jonathan Oates, a Liberal Democrat peer and former Chief of Staff to Nick Clegg, told the Lord’s on Tuesday that the Bill would not halt environmental protests as the government was failing to address the issues being highlighted by demonstrators.

“The solution is to address the issues and try to understand the issues behind the anger and the protests, not to force it further underground,” he said.

“These powers will not remove divisiveness from society, they will do the opposite. They will not quell environmental protests...acting with the urgency the existential threat of climate change requires is the only way to do that.”

The debate comes after the Home Office published documents on Monday admitting that different groups would be disproportionately impacted by measures in the bill.

The Home Office admitted that proposed Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), which would allow police to stop and search people based on their previous offending history without the “reasonable grounds” currently required, would disproportionately affect black people.

But its equalities impact assessment added: “Any indirect difference on treatment on the grounds of race is anticipated to be potentially positive and objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving our legitimate aim of reducing serious violence and preventing crime.”

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