'It's no joke' says speaker at Kensal and Kilburn meeting on new police bill

Police hold back demonstrators during a 'Kill The Bill' protest against The Police, Crime, Sentencin

Police hold back demonstrators during a 'Kill The Bill' protest against The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in Parliament Square on April 3 - Credit: PA

A controversial bill could see the police and the Home Office given greater power, civil liberties stripped, and more children taken into care, a meeting heard.

Kensal & Kilburn Better 2021 held an online meeting on Thursday (April 29) on How do we #KilltheBill banning protests and targeting Gypsies and Travellers?

Clockwise at the Kilburn & Kensal Better meeting, Tom London, Luke Smith, Clive Lewis MP, Shahrar Ali and Jessica Simor QC

Clockwise at the Kilburn & Kensal Better meeting, Tom London, Luke Smith, Clive Lewis MP, Shahrar Ali and Jessica Simor QC - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is 307 pages long, is a piece of legislation sponsored by the Home Office that includes major government reforms on crime and justice in England and Wales. 

If passed, it could see major penalties for protesting, even alone, and increased penalties directed at minority groups.

Widespread protests have taken place in the UK particularly after a peaceful vigil in memory of Sarah Everard, killed in south London, descended into police violence.

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The meeting heard from Luke Smith, a Romani gypsy, who said that "all of us could potentially lose what we consider a democracy".

He added: "Our community has been lumped into a bill that doesn't just target us, it targets the black community where they can advance extended stop and search powers, extended racial profiling, it targets youths from marginalised communities and secure schools."

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He said the bill "criminalises travellers for simply existing" rather than helping them find somewhere to live. 

"This bill gives those same police officers more powers over our trailers which is our home, our vehicles which we use to go to work in and worse of all is the three month prison sentences (...) what happens when you put children's parents into prison for three months, they get taken into the care system.

"People will potentially lose their children over this bill, it's that serious, it's no joke."

Jessica Simor QC, a leading specialist in Human Rights law, spoke on the right to protest and the right of freedom of assembly that is "a right that the state is obliged to guarantee".

"A key danger here is that open power and open discretions given to the police, and to a certain context the home secretary, and very large potential penalties are provided for in the bill.

"All these things give rise to what's called a chilling effect. People start to acting differently because they are worried about the risk.

"The importance of the obligation to guarantee is that the state actively encourages protest and guarantees protest rather than setting up open laws and open powers that chill open protest. Because the chilling of the right to protest in itself is a threat to democracy."  

The meeting was chaired by Tom London, of KKB, and heard from Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, and Shahrar Ali, home affairs member of the Green Party.

A Home Office spokesperson said the bill "delivers on the government’s commitment to crack down on crime and build safer communities".

“We are equipping the police with the tools they need to stop violent criminals in their tracks, putting the thugs who assault officers behind bars for longer and strengthening the support officers and their families receive.

“The government has already recruited over 6,600 of the additional 20,000 police officers and this Bill enshrines our commitment to those brave officers who put themselves in danger to keep rest of us safe into law.”

In relation to the traveller community they said: "We are introducing a new criminal offence where a person who resides or intends to reside on any public or private land without permission and has caused, or is likely to cause, significant damage, disruption or distress.

"Fair and equal treatment for all is right and this includes ensuring that travelling communities can continue their traditional, nomadic way of life while settled communities can live peacefully and enjoy their rights."

On protests they said: "The right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy but protesters who use disruptive and dangerous tactics cannot be permitted to trample on the rights of local businesses and communities." 

And on stop and search added: "Nobody should be stopped solely on the basis of their skin colour and we are committed to ensuring that stop and search is conducted lawfully, and that safeguards, including training, guidance and body worn video, are in place to help ensure it is used effectively.

"Stop and search is a vital tool in reducing knife crime."

The Bill is expected to be completed by June 24.

To watch the meeting visit Kensal & Kilburn Better 2021 on YouTube

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