Abbie Kirkby is Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Friends, Families and Travellers. In this blog, Abbie outlines some of the legal basis and reasoning for our intervention in the recent High Court case against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.
Well, what a start to 2024. Our fight against the criminalisation of trespass was taken to the High Court, supporting a Judicial Review challenge against the Government and the draconian new powers in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (2022).
This Act specifically targets Romany and Traveller communities living on roadside camps – an attack on minority ethnic communities and centuries-old traditions of living nomadically, together.
The provisions in this new legislation are wide reaching, where you can drift into territory of committing a criminal offence if someone believes you are ‘intending to reside’ (on land) or ‘likely to cause’…‘distress’.
These wildly subjective terms leave lots of room for abuse, especially given the entrenched prejudice against Romany and Traveller people. And the consequences for breaching the legislation are cruel – including the seizure of families’ homes and imprisonment.
During the judicial review challenge, our lawyers made the case that the coercive powers are not proportionate, creating an arbitrary interference with Article 8 rights (respect for your private and family life).
The police powers inherently lower the protections of a nomadic way of life for Romany and Traveller people, which is why we intervened in this legal challenge.
How can the provisions in the Act be proportionate, especially given the absence of stopping places and sites? The moral and rational approach would be to create more sites and stopping places. But this, of course, is not the agenda behind the legislation.
The Police Act forms part of a bigger picture, one of systemic racism against Romany and Traveller people, of a hostile environment that perpetuates race hate and discrimination, and the stark inequalities experienced by Romany and Traveller people.
This is this sixth legal challenge we have been involved in in just three years – challenging a discriminatory planning policy definition in the High Court then Court of Appeal; challenging the use of anti-Traveller injunctions in the High Court then Court of Appeal then the Supreme Court; and now this High Court case against the Policing Act.
But it’s just relentless – especially for families who can’t even go to the supermarket without a racist encounter, or who are refused a table in a restaurant because they “don’t take Traveller bookings”.
So, well done to Wendy Smith, the Claimant, who got this far, and stood up against the new legislation, and to her lawyers Chris Johnson of Community Law Partnership, and Marc Willers KC and Ollie Persey at Garden Court Chambers.
Seeking and achieving access to justice, for individuals, is no mean feat.
Thanks also to the lawyers representing Friends, Families and Travellers, Parminder Sanghera at Community Law Partnership, Nadia O’Mara and Stephen Simblet KC at Garden Court Chambers, and to Liberty for also intervening in this legal challenge.
The judgment from the case is reserved, but regardless of the outcome, the fight will continue.
Head of Policy and Public Affairs
About Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT)
Friends, Families and Travellers is a leading national charity that works to end racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and to protect the right to pursue a nomadic way of life.
Tel: 07436 228910 Email: [email protected]
‘Permission granted in High Court challenge to law that criminalises Gypsies, Roma and Travellers’. Garden Court Chambers. July 2023. Read.
‘Kicking the can down the road: New report on site provision over the past 60 years’. Friends, Families and Travellers. November 2023. View report.
‘Police Act: What you need to know’. Friends, Families and Travellers. June 2022. View here.
‘FFT Statement on Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’. Friends, Families and Travellers. April 2022. Read.