The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC) proposes changes to the criminal justice system (which, if introduced will have implications for England and Wales’ justice system):
“..The police with the powers and tools they need to protect themselves and the public, while overhauling sentencing laws to keep serious sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer, and placing greater emphasis on rehabilitation to better help offenders to turn their lives around.”1.
Brought before Parliament in March 2021, the proposals have been met with nationwide protests. In some instances the protests against the Bill have turned violent and we have seen clashes with the police, a police station stormed and police vans set on fire (Bristol) and vandalised.2.
The Bill’s proposals: The following are some of the main proposals put forward for the PCSC Bill: 3.
1. Smarter sentencing powers for offences including: assaults on emergency workers; the murder of children; Death by dangerous driving and community sentencing options for youth offenders.
2. Stronger police powers to tackle disruptive non-violent protests and increased powers to tackle unauthorised encampments causing distress to communities.
3. A reform of pre-charge bail options and removal of automatic early release for serious crimes.
Passing of the Bill
The Bill currently awaits its 2nd of three ‘readings’ in the House of Lords before being passed for Royal Assent. The second reading is an opportunity for the House of Lords members to review the key principles and highlight areas of concern or identify areas needing amendment.4. The Bill passed through the House of Commons despite strong opposition and it is probable the House of Lords will also highlight the ongoing contentions surrounding the debate.5. If passed the Bill is predicted to have cost implications to the region of 100-140million/GBP per year for England and Wales combined.6.
The trending debates surrounding the Bill
The Bill has been met with criticism from a number of protest groups, culminating in regular nationwide demonstrations entitled ‘Kill the Bill’ which has seen
protests over the past five months take place up and down the country including, but not limited to in London, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Bournemouth,
Brighton, Weymouth and Luton.7.
The Big Issue and traveller campaign group Drive to Survive indicate the new trespassing legislation will put:
“Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups at risk and threatens to push rough sleepers deeper into homelessness”8.
And Ex-Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn has told protestors to:
“Stand up for the right to protest, stand up for the right to have your voice heard”9.
Sisters Uncut, one of the founding ‘Kill the Bill’ protest groups has also expressed their consternation at the proposals stating:
“Passed by the Commons or not, we refuse to accept the bill and its racist attack on our communities especially the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community, whose
very way of life is criminalised by this bill’s widely-slammed trespass provisions…”10.
EQUAL, the Action for Race Equality in the Criminal Justice System has sent a joint response to the Government on behalf of a number of organisations including the Prison Reform Trust where they voiced concern that:
“The government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will further entrench racial inequality in the criminal justice system.”11.
A complete copy of their joint response can be found here. The reply from Alex Chalk MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice can be found here.
Shadow Home Secretary, David Lammy MP has also voiced his concerns and described the legislation as:
“Poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest”.12.
Sir Bob Neill, Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, highlights the co-operation and support the Bill received from criminal justice agencies and other social justice charities. He explained to his constituents his reasons for supporting the Bill in a statement saying:
“The vast majority of the Bill focuses on other issues, from important changes on road traffic offences and the early release of serious offenders, to common sense reforms like increasing sentences for those who attack emergency workers to allowing British Sign Language interpreters in jury deliberation rooms. It is for that reason many organisations working in the criminal justice sphere, including professional associations like the Law Society and Magistrates Association, as well as charities like Nacro, have welcomed it.”13.
The Police Federation who have been campaigning for greater protection for serving police officers expressed their support for the Bill:
“For almost a decade, the Federation has been campaigning to bring about a positive change in the law to better protect police drivers…..This change is much needed and long overdue.”14.
There is no estimated completion date for the Bill and its passing by Royal Assent may be delayed if the members of the House of Lords voice concerns that warrant further discovery.16. The Bill will continue to meet with opposition. Protest plans are already in place for @killthebill_manchester to protest at the Appleby Horse fair from 13-15 August and Drive2Survive are also encouraging their supporters to join them in demonstrations over the summer.