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The Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill 2021 aims to increase police power and tools, introduce tougher sentencing for the worst offenders and improve the efficiency of the court system. However, in the current climate of scrutiny over police corruption and discrimination, it has caused a mass of protests. Amongst other things, the Bill is being criticised for introducing blunt short-term policies discriminating against the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) community, disregarding the underlying issues they face such as lack of camp sites and discrimination. 

It intends to: ‘strengthen police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments, where trespassers cause distress and misery to local communities and businesses,’ which would severely impact GRT community’s way of life. Specifically, the Bill will criminalise residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle, including if the citizen intends to have a vehicle with them or are likely to cause significant disruption or damage. This has expanded on and changed the policies of the 1994 Act, increasing police power and removing the section which argues that people can only be directed to move if there is a suitable pitch provided elsewhere. 

This policy aims to stop disruption from encampments and to reduce the number of unauthorised and non-tolerated encampments. Unauthorised encampments are defined as ‘encampments of caravans and/or other vehicles on land without the landowner or occupier’s consent and constituting trespass.’ While removing the GRTs may be a success from the point of view of the locals – it provides an instant solution to the disruption, there has been little consideration as to what this will mean for the community. Furthermore, the problem has not been solved, simply moved to another area. Under the new laws, an encampment can be removed regardless of if there is a suitable pitch elsewhere. This will lead to significant issues for the community and potentially more illegal encampment elsewhere, if there is nowhere legal to camp. In this case, the cycle may well start again as the Travellers are removed from their new camp. 

The Bill specifically criminalises someone being ‘likely to’ cause significant damage (defined as damage worth over 50% of the property’s market value). While there may be some cases in which the removal of encampments is thus necessary, it is open to be taken advantage of. 

Studies by the Friends, Families, and Travellers organisation reported that 40% of UK adults openly express negative attitudes towards the community. This negative attitude could lead people to contact police over minor disruptions or unnecessarily, leading to removal of communities who may not have anywhere to go and may restrict the community’s ability to maintain their culture legally.

A more inclusive, long-term solution to the issues that the Bill aims to solve would be to increase the number of campsites open to the GRT community by expanding green belts and other green spaces and moving management to a national level from local authorities. 

Importantly, the 2015 planning policy for Traveller sites provides a limited framework for this, focusing on fair and equal treatment and introducing more land for GRT communities to use. 

By expanding on the 2015 policy proposals to increase the amount of land authorised for Travellers to use, the community would have more ways of maintaining their way of life legally. This would reduce the number of unauthorised encampments without the need for police intervention. If done so by expanding green spaces, this would also further the goal of limiting urban expansion. 

The most effective way of expanding the amount of land authorised for GRT communities to use would be to shift the responsibility over campsites from local authorities to a national level. This would allow a comprehensive network of available land to be created throughout the country for GRT communities to use and would remove the possibility of local authorities purposefully under utilising their budget for GRT-friendly campsites in an attempt to reduce the community’s presence in their area, as has happened in Ireland

Additionally, this network of campsites could be regulated and monitored, ensuring the safety of GRT communities and that there are adequate resources for them at the campsite. This may also act to reduce local disruption as well as positively affecting the community, such as in terms of health interventions.  

In short, expanding the supply of managed, available land for GRT communities at a national level would solve the problems the 2021 Bill would fail to do,  in a long-term manner that also supports the wellbeing of GRT communities and respects their way of life.

Lucy is currently undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Number 10]