As Committee Stage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill began on 18 May, a new briefing published by EVAW, Southall Black Sisters, Latin American Women’s Rights Service and Rights of Women opposes the Bill, calling out its disproportionate impact on minoritised and marginalised women, as well as its authoritarian measures that threaten civil liberties including the right to protest. Read the briefing here: Joint briefing on the PCSC Bill for Committee Stage HoC – May 2021 (final)
Protest is firmly embedded in the struggle for women’s rights – and particularly the rights of Black and minoritised women, and it is under threat by measures in Part Three of the Bill. Gracie Bradley, interim Director of Liberty, noted in her evidence to the Public Bill Committee that there is some analysis to suggest that the protest provisions in the Bill are a direct response to Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter. However, during the judicial review of the Met’s decision to ban Extinction Rebellion protests in 2019, the commissioner conceded that there were sufficient powers in the Public Order Act to deal with protests that were attempting to stretch policing to its limits. It it therefore clear that the Bill’s measures are unnecessary.
Any attempt by the state to erode our right to protest is a stark warning to those most likely to be impacted by human rights abuses and state violence, including Black and minoritised women, migrant women, Deaf and disabled women and members of the LGBT+ community. We call on Members of Parliament to resist each of the measures in Part Three of the Bill that seek to curtail our freedom of expression.
Part Four of the Bill includes a new trespassing offence that would seek to further criminalise Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities and so, according to Friends, Families Travellers, would compound existing inequalities and disproportionally affect specific minority and ethnic communities in a way which likely conflicts with equality and human rights legislation. This proposed offence clearly demonstrates how marginalised and minoritised women are at the sharp edge of this legislation and we urge MPs to oppose this part of the Bill.
We are deeply concerned at how the issue of violence against women and girls (VAWG) has been co-opted by the Government in the framing of the PCSC Bill. However, the specialist VAWG sector was not consulted on the Bill or any of its measures and so we are clear that the Bill does nothing to tackle the complex underlying causes of VAWG. Instead, measures such as polygraph testing which lack an evidential basis and can exacerbate discriminatory practice, and longer prison sentences which, in reality, focus on policing and prisons for a minority of offenders rather than prevention. Such measures alone are unlikely to reduce violence and harm in practice and will create conditions that allow institutions to abuse their powers, perpetuate VAWG and re-traumatise survivors.
The way provisions around Mobile Phone Extraction are framed in this Bill will roll back vital data, privacy and equality protections for rape survivors. There has been a hard-fought campaign against intrusive and unnecessary data collection practices in relation to victims of crime. This Bill, for the first time, seeks to put these invasive practices on a statutory footing – but the proposals fail to adequately protect the rights of victims when it comes to mining their phone data (data that relates not only to them, but their friends, relatives, colleagues and communities).
Deniz Uğur, Deputy Director, says:
“The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a deeply concerning piece of proposed legislation which seems to be primarily concerned with a series of measures which would see our fundamental rights and freedoms extensively curbed. We support the cacophony of calls coming from a wide cross section of our society for the Bill to be revoked or voted against entirely.
It is as plain as day that this Bill is not meant to address the state of violence against women and girls, nor does it acknowledge the reality and impact of the racism experienced by Black and minoritised women’s ability to access justice or even navigate the justice system.
We are, and always have been, really clear that to properly address the fact that the criminal justice system is being experienced as a site of harm for women and girls, it needs a radical re-think. Women and girls are denied justice and healing at every step of this inadequate system, and this is demonstrative not of a system that is broken but a system which works exactly as it was designed – to uphold patriarchal and discriminatory approaches to ‘justice’.”
Far from reforming our justice system and supporting survivors of VAWG, this Bill entrenches a reliance on powerful institutions with histories of discriminatory approaches and weak accountability mechanisms. It is a law-and-order response that does nothing to address the underlying causes of offending while threatening our ability to express dissent about the state’s complicity in VAWG by fundamentally undermining our right to protest. We therefore call for the PCSC Bill to be revoked or voted down and instead demand an approach to VAWG built on a rigorous evidence base which centres and empowers all survivors, without discrimination.