Romany Gypsy woman takes government to court over ‘discriminatory’ policing

Lawyers say the 2022 Policing Act ‘criminalises an entire way of life’ by handing officers more powers to target camps. By Sam Gelder


A Romany Gypsy woman will take on the government at the High Court next week over its “discriminatory” Policing Act.

Wendy Smith has been granted permission to challenge part of the 2022 Police, Crime and Sentencing Act (PSCS) that introduced powers to fine, arrest, imprison and seize the homes of Gypsies and Travellers living in roadside camps.

Backed by charity Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) and human rights campaign group Liberty, Smith will argue the law is discriminatory because it targets minority ethnic communities who have no alternative stopping places. The two-day judicial review will begin on Tuesday.

FFT chief executive Sarah Mann said: “You cannot use the full force of the law to tell people where they can’t go without offering alternatives for where they can.”

The hugely controversial Policing Act, passed under former home secretary Priti Patel, also introduced powers to crack down on protests, primarily by climate activists, and sparked the UK’s Kill the Bill movement. openDemocracy revealed in 2022 that the bill was dreamed up by Policy Exchange, a secretive right-wing think tank funded by US oil giant ExxonMobil.

FFT and Liberty will act as ‘interveners’ in the case – someone who can join proceedings because they may be affected by the outcome. FFT has consistently raised concerns about the act’s legal standing, as well as its “draconian attack” on Gypsies and Travellers.

Smith is being represented by Chris Johnson of Community Law Partnership (CLP), along with Marc Willers and Ollie Persey of Garden Court Chambers (GCC).

Willers said: “Nomadism is an intrinsic part of the traditional way of life of Gypsies and Travellers that the government has a duty to respect and facilitate. The obvious and rational solution is to provide more designated transit sites and stopping places.

“Instead, in 2022, the government took the decision to strengthen existing enforcement powers.

“My client now has the opportunity to challenge that decision and to persuade the court that the new powers have a disproportionate effect on Gypsies and Travellers and unlawfully discriminate against them.”

The legal challenge will set out empirical and anecdotal evidence of the “chilling” impact of the new powers on the ability to maintain a nomadic way of life.

Liberty’s head of legal casework, Louise Whitfield, said the powers were “discriminatory and disproportionate”.

“The act gives the police vague, sweeping powers to do things like seize vehicles – potentially leaving families, including children, destitute,” she said. “It also completely ignores the chronic national shortage of places where Gypsies and Travellers can stop or reside, or the fact the police already have ample powers to remove people from land.

“Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are among the most persecuted and marginalised communities in the UK. Instead of criminalising an entire way of life for Gypsies and Travellers, the government should be seeking to make sure their rights are respected and upheld.”

Source >> Open Democracy

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