Dear Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor
Re: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
We write as faith and belief groups to express our concerns about Parts 3 and 4 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in advance of its Lords Committee Stage later this month.
The new restrictions on peaceful processions and assemblies present a grave threat to civil liberties in this country, and would allow the police to potentially criminalise a wide range of scenarios, either for being too ‘noisy’ or for causing ‘serious unease’.
Both criteria are vague, and risk capturing a range of activities. In practice, there are also likely to be a number of severe consequences for faith and belief communities across the country. The police would be empowered to disrupt gatherings and events that cause noise. Expressing one’s faith or belief, or putting it into practice, often requires vocal expression. This ranges from street preaching and protesting about the harm being done to creation, to chanting and singing as important religious and creative practices. It can cause ‘unease’ to people in the vicinity who might disagree. The Bill would therefore have a chilling effect on the practices of millions of those putting their faith or belief into practice across the country. The Government has not explained how the rights of these communities will be safeguarded.
Likewise, the measures could be used to crack down on gatherings at the discretion of whoever happens to be the Home Secretary (or police officer) at the time. Events such as prayer vigils, public acts of worship, community events and protests could be restricted or banned with incredible ease. This is unacceptable in a democratic society and strikes at the heart of the rich diversity of belief and expression that has been championed and celebrated in the past. For this reason we call for the removal of Part 3 of the Bill entirely.
We are equally concerned by the disproportionate impact the Bill will have on groups already marginalised by our society, such as people from ethnic minority backgrounds. We deplore the Bill’s attack on Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities and their way of life. It does this by creating a new trespass offence at a time where the Government has failed in its duty to provide sufficient sites and permitted stopping places. This further criminalises marginalised communities who already suffer profound levels of societal stigma and economic hardship. It would also risk rendering many members of the community homeless. Many members of the groups signing this letter face discrimination day to day in their lives. It is therefore incumbent on us to stand together with Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities and call out discrimination where we see it. Nothing less than the removal of this provision, and the urgent creation of additional Gypsy and Traveller sites and stopping places to facilitate their nomadic lifestyle, will suffice.
We invite you to think again on these measures, and support amendments for their removal. It is not too late to set things right.
- David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, Church of England
- Marie van der Zyl, President, Board of Deputies of British Jews
- Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Director, Network of Sikh Organisations UK
- Zara Mohammed, Secretary-General, The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB)
- Jamie Cresswell, Director, Centre for Applied Buddhism
- Rabbi Leah Jordan , Kehillah North London
- The Right Reverend Andrew John, Bishop of Bangor and Senior Bishop of the Church in Wales, The Church in Wales
- Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain
- Mia Hasenson-Gross, Executive Director, René Cassin, the Jewish voice for human rights
- Paul Rochester, General Secretary, Free Churches Group
- Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of General Assembly, United Reformed Church
- Elizabeth Slade, Chief Officer, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
- Revd Sonia Hicks, President of the Methodist Conference, Methodist Church of Britain
- Barbara Easton Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, The Methodist Church
- Revd Lynn Green, General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain
- Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy and Communications, CAFOD
- Revd Martin Burrell, Chair, Churches Network for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma (CNGTR)
- Olivia Fuchs, Chair, Eco Dharma Network
- Elizabeth Arif-Fear, Founder and Director, Voice of Salam
- Sue Claydon , Chair, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
- Shanon Shah, Director, Faith for the Climate
- Rachel Taggart-Ryan, Campaigns Officer, Humanists UK
- Isobel Ingham-Barrow, Head of Policy, Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND)
- Naomi Green, Staff, Belfast Islamic Centre
- Raheel Mohammed, Director, Maslaha
- Revd Dr Darrell Hannah, Chair, Operation Noah
- Scot Bower, CEO, CSW
- Jonathan Herbert, Reverend Canon, Church of England
- Dr. Narapa Stephen Johnson, Buddhist Chaplain, Buddhist Healthcare Chaplaincy Trust
- Joseph Mishan, Member of Organising group, Extinction Rebellion Buddhists
- Graeme Hodge, CEO, All We Can & Y Care International