UK High Court rules parts of Police Act breach European Convention on Human Rights News
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UK High Court rules parts of Police Act breach European Convention on Human Rights

The UK High Court ruled that provisions of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (Police Act 2022) are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday and that use of the powers was “capable of significant intrusion on the lives” of Gypsies and travellers.

The judge stated that certain amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (CJPO) introduced by the Police Act 2022 were in breach of Article 14 of the ECHR, read alongside Article 8 of the right to privacy and a family life. Article 14 requires that rights be secured “without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”

The Police Act 2022 gave police powers to ban Gypsies and travellers from certain areas for up to 12 months, alongside additional powers to arrest and imprison people living on roadside camps, impose fines and seize their homes. The proposals were met with condemnation from human rights groups at the time, with rights group Liberty warning that they would “expose already marginalised communities to profiling and disproportionate police powers through the expansion of stop and search, and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities may face increased police enforcement through the criminalisation of trespass.”

The claimant, Wendy Smith, argued that the 12-month no-return provision “places a disproportionate burden on Gypsies. It expands the scope of the criminal penalties and at the same time makes it more difficult to comply with the law.” Justice Swift agreed and found that the extension of the power to ban from 3 to 12 months discriminated against Gypsy and traveller communities.

The claimant had also contended that the amendments to the CJPO amounted to race discrimination but this assertion was not wholly upheld, with the judge remarking that the “claim succeeds but only so far as concerns the submission on the duration of the no-return periods. The remaining part of the [c]laimant’s claim fails.” The court decided that the appropriate course was to issue a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998. This means that Parliament will have to decide if the law should be amended to make it compatible with the ECHR.

Marc Willers KC, lead counsel for the claimant, and barrister at Garden Court Chambers said:

This is a hugely significant judgment. In granting the declaration of incompatibility, the [c]ourt recognised that there is a lack of lawful stopping places for Gypsies and [t]ravellers and that unless the government increases provision, the law as currently drafted will amount to unjustified race discrimination.