On 17 January 2022, the protest measures of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill were debated in the House of Lords. In a night of crushing defeats for the government, peers voted 14 times to block its proposals.
Among the provisions voted on were the amendments inserted by the government at the 11th hour, including new protest-specific stop-and-search powers, serious disruption prevention orders, and new criminal offences of ‘locking on’ and interference with key national infrastructure. Having been introduced at a late stage, peers were able to block these amendments from progressing any further through parliament.
Peers also successfully passed amendments to the original bill, including removing the new noise trigger for the power to impose conditions on protest and the power to impose restrictions on static assemblies. They also voted to repeal the nearly 200-year-old Vagrancy Act, which criminalises rough sleeping. If the government opposes these amendments, they will return to the Commons. These victories notwithstanding, the bill remains deeply concerning. Measures criminalising trespass – which would effectively extinguish Gypsy and Traveller communities’ way of life, trap people in cycles of eviction and criminalisation, and tear families apart – remain intact after an amendment to mitigate their worst effects failed by one vote. Serious violence reduction orders Earlier, on 10 January, peers debated serious violence reduction orders (SVROs), new civil orders that establish an individualised stop-and-search power, as well as reporting requirements and conditions, breach of which is a criminal offence. The Home Office acknowledges that SVROs will disproportionately affect Black men. Violence against women and girls (VAWG) organisations have warned that the ability of SVROs to be imposed on people who ‘ought to have known’ that someone else involved in an offence would have a knife, will disproportionately affect women experiencing domestic abuse and criminal exploitation, and trap people in cycles of punishment and criminalisation. Campaigners have also warned that SVROs risk entrenching the discredited doctrine of joint enterprise, given that ‘ought to have known’ creates a lower threshold than ‘foresight’, which was considered in the Supreme Court case of R v Jogee  UKSC 8. Peers successfully passed amendments to the bill on 10 January to establish a more robust pilot for SVROs, and to require a parliamentary vote before they can be rolled out nationally. Serious violence dutyPeers have also debated the serious violence duty (13 December 2021), which is likely to drastically expand the racialised surveillance of marginalised communities by creating new powers on the police to demand information disclosure even when this may conflict with duties of confidentiality and data protection law, similar to practices in the Metropolitan Police’s gangs matrix that the Information Commissioner’s Office found to be unlawful. Despite campaigning by human rights, racial justice and data privacy groups, alongside the VAWG sector and front-line workers, the duty has remained largely intact, although peers successfully fought to exclude patients’ medical data from the new data-sharing powers and obligations. The fight against the bill isn’t over, but the government’s defeats demonstrate what can be achieved through sustained and persistent collaboration and mobilisation.
Legal Action Group LAG