One sentence from Priti Patel about the policing bill makes a mockery of government support for women

police protest priti patel
Jasmine Norden

Home secretary Priti Patel has made a mockery out of government support for women. Patel claimed yesterday that the government is committed to tackling violence against women, saying:

I am listening to women and girls up and down the country.

She went on to defend the policing bill, saying it would end the halfway releases of those convicted of sexual offences and extend the sexual offences act.

But Patel isn’t listening even to women MPs, let alone women across the country. Because several of them have united to get her controversial policing bill thrown out amid accusations that it will allow police to crack down on the right to protest.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour MP for Streatham, has put forward an amendment that would stop the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is on day two of its second reading in the House of Commons.

The amendment has been supported by MPs across parties, including the Green’s Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Apsana Begum, Plaid Cymru’s Liz Savile-Roberts, and the SNP’s Kirstin Oswald.

It comes in the wake of multiple civil rights groups speaking out against the bill, and protests against it across the country.

The amendment

The proposed amendment blocks the bill progressing further on the grounds that it is an attack on civil liberties and could increase racial and gendered inequalities in the criminal justice system, such as:

  • Restricting freedom of assembly rights in the Human Rights Act that enshrines the right to take part in protests.
  • It does not address discrimination and racial bias in the police against Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
  • It does not contain measures that specifically protect women and girls from male violence.
  • It contains new measures “that will disproportionately affect Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities”.

Ribeiro-Addy said:

Rather than acknowledging the genuine injustices raised by protesters from a range of movements, this Government has shown time and again that they would prefer to simply legislate and police protest out of existence.

The events of the weekend prove that criminalising protest and giving the Police further powers to curtail it are the last things we should be doing right now.

The Bill would mean some offenders receive harsher sentences for damaging statues than for assaulting women, and also introduces provisions that appear to target the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, already among the most marginalised groups in the UK.

We cannot accept such a fundamental assault on minoritised communities or on the right to protest.

The bill

The proposed legislation would give the police new powers to impose conditions on protests, such as limits on the amount of noise a protest can make. The home secretary would also have the power to define how and when a protest causes “serious disruption”.

The bill will also make ‘public nuisance’ a statutory offence and expand sentencing powers for offences like damaging memorials. Both will be punishable by up to ten years in prison.

There has been renewed scrutiny of the police and the bill after police intervened in a vigil for Sarah Everard at the weekend, arresting some of the women gathered. Their actions have been widely condemned as disproportionate.

Further opposition

People around the country gathered to protest the bill yesterday, calling for MPs to “kill the bill”.

Groups advocating for women’s safety have been among its strongest critics. End Violence Against Women, which just had a case about the CPS’s treatment of sexual offences thrown out, has criticised the bill.

Sisters Uncut, a group protesting cuts to domestic violence services, said:

The police protect themselves. The police do not keep us safe, and plainclothes police won’t protect us. On Saturday night, the police were drunk with power. And now the Government is voting to give them more power. We say no.

Featured image via Flickr/Andy Thornley & YouTube/Guardian News

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