10 January saw the highly controversial police bill back in parliament yet again, this time to vote on one of its most racist elements. The House of Lords voted on amendments to Part 10 of the bill, which will introduce Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs).
But home secretary Priti Patel faced a blow to her powers after the Lords voted to adopt an amendment to stop her rolling out SVROs after a pilot scheme. Instead, once the pilot scheme is completed, both the Commons and the Lords will have a chance to debate the evaluation of the scheme before its implemented further. As Green peer Jenny Jones pointed out:
Why on earth would they be brought in before they [SVROs] have been measured? It is essential that the Government prove the efficacy of these measures and demonstrate that they are not being used in a way that is racially or otherwise discriminatory.
The amendment will now go back to the House of Commons where MPs will decide whether they accept it or whether the bill goes back to the House of Lords without the amendment.
But while any curtailment of government power is welcome, SVROs should not be introduced in any area and this amendment will do nothing to help all the people who will be harassed and criminalised under the pilot scheme.
In March 2021, the government announced pilot schemes for SVROs in four police force areas – Thames Valley, West Midlands, Merseyside and Sussex.
According to Liberty:
Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), created under the Policing Bill, are a new civil order that can be given to an individual, including if they knew, or ought to have known, that someone else had a knife or would use a knife. The police will be given the power to stop and search people who have an SVRO without suspicion at any time in a public place.
This will give the police much more power to harass certain individuals with impunity, as they will no longer require the ‘reasonable grounds’ generally needed to stop and search someone. Instead, the individual can be searched at any time, whenever they are in a public space, if they have been issued with an SVRO.
Of course, this will have a massive impact on the Black community, which is already traumatised by the police’s stop and search powers. Before this bill has even passed, Black people are already 9.7 times more likely to get stopped and searched. Individuals listed on the Met Police’s Gangs Matrix – a database of people that the Met suspects to be gang members – are likely to find themselves particularly targeted.
According to Garden Court Chambers:
People who have never been involved in violence are added to the Matrix and it’s disproportionate. In October 2017 78% of the people on the Matrix were Black, an even more striking statistic in light of the fact that only 28% of those responsible for serious youth violence were Black.
Guilt by association
As Liberty has stated, someone can be issued with an SVRO if they know, or ought to have known, that someone else had a knife. The term ‘ought to have known’ is so subjective that it’s laughable. It gives the state the power to issue an SVRO to pretty much anyone it doesn’t like, and that person doesn’t need to be guilty of any crime. It will, however, be a crime to breach the restrictions.
Campaigners argue that this will effectively expand the crime of ‘joint enterprise’. While the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the law had been wrongly used for thirty years, campaigners are still fighting for the law to be reformed. Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, argued:
Joint Enterprise is widely recognised as an unjust way of dragging people into the criminal justice system, and is used overwhelmingly against people from poor and minoritised communities, especially Black men and children.
We know that existing stop and search powers don’t reduce crime, and that they’re used “unfairly and sometimes unlawfully“. SVROs will make racial discrimination even more prevalent in society.
They are just one proposal in a long line of draconian measures that will be brought in once the racist police bill is passed. It’s time scrap the whole ludicrous bill.
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