From overcrowded prisons to endemic racial disproportionality, there are many pressing issues across the criminal justice system which need comprehensive, urgent redress. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill purports to empower “the police and courts to take more effective action against crime and lead [to] a fair justice system.” While some of the aspects of the Bill are welcome, such as the expansion of the use of video technology in hearings, the explicit reference to the best interests of the child with respect to remand hearings, and the raising of the threshold for children to be remanded in custody, JUSTICE considers that the Bill would not meet this aim.
On the contrary, several of the Bill’s core proposals pose a significant threat to the UK’s adherence to its domestic and international human rights obligations, while also lacking an evidential basis to justify their introduction.
In particular, our main concerns relate to:
- Amendments to pre-charge bail, which would increase the time limits for when authorisation or an extension for pre-charge bail must be sought and change which officials approve these extensions. These changes would lead to lengthier investigations which are damaging to victims and those accused of committing offences.
- Increased powers for police to respond to non-violent protests, which would expand the circumstances in which police can impose conditions on protests, remove the need to knowingly breach conditions in order to commit an offence and introduce a broad statutory offence of public nuisance with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. These changes risk breaching protesters’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly and the requirement for legal certainty.
- Increased powers for police to respond to ‘unauthorised encampments’, which would criminalise trespass, increase the existing period of time in which trespassers directed from land would be unable to return from three to 12 months, and grant private landowners’ significant powers to trigger a criminal offence with respect to what is ordinarily a civil dispute. These measures would likely indirectly discriminate against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, breach their rights to privacy and the home and be in breach of the public sector equality duty.
- Blanket changes to early release and increased tariffs, which would increase the amount of time those detained must spend in prison before being released on license to serve the rest of their sentence in the community for certain offences. These changes would disproportionally impact Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic people, undermine the rehabilitation of those detained, and incur significant financial costs through unduly extended periods of imprisonment.
- Greater powers for the Secretary of State for Justice to determine which prisoners can and cannot be automatically released, which would put pressure on the capacity of the Parole Board and risk breaching prisoner’s right to liberty under Article 5 of the ECHR, Article 6 ECHR right to a fair trial, and Article 7 ECHR right against retrospective punishment.
- Serious Violence Reduction Orders, which would give the police the power to stop and search anybody subject to this order without the need for reasonable grounds to suspect them of having committed a crime. Like all other types of stop and search power, it is likely that SVROs would be used disproportionally against ethnic minorities – especially Black men. This would further damage police relations with minority communities and risk violating an individual’s Article 8 ECHR rights to privacy.
JUSTICE also notes the worrying context in which this Bill arises, with this Parliament seeing several concerning pieces of legislation that have served to undermine the rule of law. This Bill actively deepens these anxieties, especially at a time of great political and constitutional uncertainty. JUSTICE therefore urges Parliament to remove the Bill’s abovementioned offending provisions, in the interests of ensuring the UK meets its domestic and international human rights obligations.