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image: Robin Stott, Geograph

High Court: Police and Crime Act places “disproportionate burden on Gypsies”

A judgement on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 last week handed a victory to campaigners for Gypsy and Traveller rights.

The high court judge found in favour of the submission brought by the claimant, Wendy Smith, with the charity Friends, Families & Travellers (FFT) and civil liberties advocacy group Liberty acting as third-party interveners. Together they argued that the Act would disproportionately impact those who lived nomadic lifestyles.

The ruling found that the Act placed “a disproportionate burden on Gypsies” and was “incompatible” with existing Traveller rights under the European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR).

However, the judge did not accept the further claim that amendments to the 1994 Criminal Justice and Order Act were also forms of race discrimination.

While the Act doesn’t explicitly mention Gypsies and Travellers, the sections dealing with trespass and encampments make it clear they are specifically intended to target these already marginalised groups.

The controversial Act, which triggered massive protests from hundreds of campaign groups, human rights organisations, and politicians across the political spectrum, was passed in April 2022. While much of the focus has been on its vague wording, authoritarian nature, and restrictions on the right to protest, it also gave the police the power to criminalise trespass, with penalties including fines up to £2,500, 3 months in prison, and the seizures of vehicles such as cars and caravans. It also increased the period over which police could ban people from an area from 3 to 12 months.

Despite the Caravan Sites Act 1968 obligating local authorities to provide places for Gypsies and Travellers to stay on caravan sites, very little has been done to accommodate this. With this pre-existing lack of safe stopping places or authorised sites, and no new alternatives being presented, the Act has been seen by many as part of a wider attack on the rights of nomadic travellers.

While this ruling will be a relief for many, it still doesn’t address the widespread structural discrimination faced by gypsy and traveller communities.

~ Sam Skelt

photo: Robin Stott

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