Evidence to Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill
Please see our answers below each of the Committee’s questions in its Terms of Reference, which are in italics
- Does the power to extract information from electronic devices set out in Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Bill comply with the right to respect for private life (Article 8 ECHR)?
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently going through the Commons will make it illegal for police to seize mobile phones and other digital devices from complainants and witnesses and extract information without their consent.
But this remains a serious invasion of privacy. The requirement that people have to volunteer their devices is no protection at all as oppressive police practices and threats to discontinue a case mean that people won’t have the power to refuse unless they pull out of the prosecution. The implication is that this choice is a protection for the accused. Also, the power can be used by immigration officials, where there is unlimited scope for oppression and abuse of power. All kinds of officials would be given this power to use information against you and your associates.
It has already been applied to victims during the investigation of rape for the past few years. There was a mass outcry from women, human rights, civil liberties and women’s organisations, and it was found by the Information Commissioner’s Office and a court challenge to be an extremely disproportionate intrusion into people’s private data. It diverts time from the investigation of the attack and puts time and focus into instead examining the private life of the victim. And it throws up irrelevant information about victims’ character, private medical and sexual history which can prejudice and jeopardise the case. The police have no right to this information which then becomes public property. It discourages victims and we know from rape victims in our network that many have withdrawn from a prosecution, or decided not to report at all, or refused to hand over their phone or other device. This form of policing protects the rapist. Despite widespread public opposition to this policy, we don’t know how much the police are still now doing it as they are so unaccountable.
- Are the proposed changes to the law governing public assemblies, processions and one-person protests necessary to protect those adversely affected by such activities? Do the proposals in Part 3 of the Bill adequately protect the right to peaceful assembly (Article 11 ECHR) and the right to free expression (Article 10 ECHR)?
No, the changes threaten to remove our rights to protest, and to free expression. And the treatment of women in protests in March even mourning the murder of a woman, for which a police officer has been charged, shows the police are willing to be as violent to women as to men. They even arrested legal observers at protests that same week against the Bill and violence against women.
- Are the new powers in Part 4 of the Bill targeting unauthorised encampments justified by the need to protect the rights of landowners and other users of the land?
- Do they contain adequate safeguards against abuse? No.
- Do these proposals adequately respect the rights of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities? No.
- Are they discriminatory? Yes. In addition, women in GRT communities have complained that they suffer illegal sexual assault and extreme violence during the evictions of their encampments, by police and other State employees put to clearing the land.
- Do the changes to custodial sentences in Chapter 1 of Part 7 of the Bill represent proportionate interferences with the right to liberty? In particular:
- Should the application of whole life orders be extended, including to 18-20 year olds? No.
- Do the proposed changes to mandatory life sentences for children adequately respect their human rights, including their rights under Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)?
- Is the restriction on reviews of the minimum term for sentences of detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure justified?
- Would the referral of high-risk offenders to the Parole Board rather than automatic release raise concerns under Article 5 and/or Article 7 ECHR?
No. It is immoral and brutal to lock children up like this and to extend sentences by increasing the tariff and moving the automatic release date from half-way through a sentence to two-thirds. It is to treat children as adults in a sadistic and uncaring way. It invites brutal treatment of children by the whole society. It is being proposed without any reference to evidence [i] of widespread abuse including rape by guards of children within secure units and prison.
The public needs to know what is happening to prisoners and how Parole Boards are chosen, how and why they make decisions. We have seen high profile cases where the Parole Board has released sex offenders without properly considering women’s safety in particular. And conversely, when prisoners are kept unfairly like under the indeterminate sentences, which are the negation of any civil liberties for prisoners.
- Do the proposed changes to the power to impose curfews in community sentences, set out in Chapter 2 of Part 7 of the Bill, have implications for human rights – particularly under Article 5 ECHR?
Yes, increasing the daily maximum curfew hours and increasing the maximum curfew length to two years is draconian and onerous. It would have a serious impact on human rights and would be a violation of Article 5 ECHR, the right to liberty. It ignores evidence that curfews are used in a sexist, racist and in other discriminatory ways, disproportionally imposed on people of colour. People living in poverty in poor, overcrowded housing for example suffer most. Women are likely to be trapped in settings at risk of exploitation and violence because poverty prevents them from leaving. The sexism and racism of the courts, probation and the police make us suspicious of how women would be affected by this, especially women of colour. Extending the use of curfews increases criminalisation as courts are encouraged to impose curfews on people convicted of minor offences – especially relevant to women the majority of whom are convicted of non-violent offences – who may otherwise have received a fine or discharge.
- Would the introduction of ‘electronic whereabouts monitoring requirements’ into youth rehabilitation orders adequately protect the right to respect for privacy under Article 8 ECHR and Article 16 UNCRC?
No. We believe there must be a difference in the way that crimes of poverty and crimes of violence (not in self-defence) should be dealt with.
- Does the Bill overall correctly balance the rights of victims and the rights of the accused and convicted?
No, it uses victims’ rights as a pretext to persecute and criminalise people, in ways that will not improve women’s safety and/or their rights as victims, but make women more likely to be victims of violent crime, especially if committed by the police. The Bill ignores most of women’s publicly voiced specific demands for changes in the way sexual and domestic violence are investigated and prosecuted, as these crimes have been practically decriminalised, as is now widely known. Women’s publicly expressed demands over many years for women’s safety have been bypassed in this Bill.
- Does the Bill give rise to any other human rights concerns?
Yes. It will criminalise Black and working-class communities and lead to mass incarceration, including against women. We’ve supported the Women in Prison campaign against 500 more prison places for women. How many of those places will be filled with women prosecuted for lying about rape? Or for crimes of poverty?
Women are often on the frontline defending our children and other family members from the human rights abuses by the police and other officials.
We still have not heard any adequate official response to the mass rape of teenage girls, particularly from care homes, in towns and cities all over the country, which began to be exposed in 2013, particularly in Rotherham, Oxford, Jersey and Shirley Oaks children’s homes in London. The police claim not to have known in which case there should have been mass sacking. Or they knew and there was collusion, or they did nothing, in which case there should have been mass sacking.
An important part of the work women do is to protect our community from police illegality and human rights abuses, including deaths in custody – it is often women who speak and organise against this injustice. This and sexual abuse of power and impunity will grow under this Bill unless police who commit rape, domestic abuse and murder are taken to court.
Women police officers have publicly said that male officers take sexual advantage of vulnerable victims of crime. They say that sexual abuse against them, as women colleagues, is rife.
The aim of the Bill seems to provoke a confrontation between the public and the police. Such an invitation to confrontation will bring the most violent men to apply for jobs in the police force. This has nothing to do with policing, it is the very opposite of policing by consent.
[i] Former chief inspector of prisons described children in custody as "very vulnerable children in a very dangerous place".