Parts of police act ‘intrude’ on lives of Gypsies and Travellers, court finds

A high court judge has found parts of the government’s policing legislation to be in breach of human rights law, with its powers capable of causing a “significant intrusion” on the lives of Gypsies and Travellers.

In a judgment published on Tuesday, sections of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act were found to be “incompatible” with the European convention on human rights, specifically article 14 when read with article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life.

The 2022 act increased the period that police could ban Gypsies and Travellers from an area from three to 12 months, and gave officers the power to fine, arrest and imprison people living on roadside camps, as well as seize their homes.

The legal challenge was brought by Wendy Smith – a Romany Gypsy woman who has lived in caravans all her life – with the charity Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) and advocacy group Liberty, who acted as interveners.

The judge accepted the submission from Smith that the 12-month no-return period “places a disproportionate burden on Gypsies” and “expands the scope of the criminal penalties and, at the same time, makes it more difficult to comply with the law”.

In the ruling, the judge said the extension of the no-return period to 12 months puts “Gypsies at a particular disadvantage”, as the maximum stay on a transit pitch is three months and the current lack of supply “renders it much less likely that the opportunity exists to move from one to another”.

The judgment read: “This consequence was neither recognised nor addressed in the consultation documents. It has not been addressed in the home secretary’s evidence in this case.”

The judge acknowledged the shortage of transit and permanent sites “has persisted for a long time”, despite the obligation on local authorities to provide accommodation on caravan sites for Gypsies in the Caravan Sites Act 1968.

Smith also claimed amendments to the 1994 Criminal Justice and Order Act in 2022 were forms of race discrimination but this was not accepted entirely. The judge clarified that Smith’s “claim succeeds but only so far as concerns the submission on the duration of the no-return periods. The remaining part of the claimant’s claim fails.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the high court ruling and are carefully considering the courts judgment.”

Abbie Kirkby, head of policy and public affairs at Friends, Families and Travellers said: “The new police powers are part of a wider hostile environment against Gypsies and Travellers, particularly for families who have nowhere else to stop.

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“But, today’s ruling is a triumph for Gypsy and Traveller people, against one of the government’s flagship policies. Whilst some of the main provisions in the act remain, they have been significantly diluted by this ruling. We extend our congratulations to Wendy Smith and commend her bravery in standing up for what’s right.”

Marc Willers KC of Garden Court Chambers, said “This is hugely significant judgment. In granting the declaration of incompatibility, the court recognised that there is a lack of lawful stopping places for Gypsies and Travellers and that unless the government increases provision, the law as currently drafted will amount to unjustified race discrimination.”

Gypsy, Roma and Irish Travellers are each a distinct racial group and are recognised as sharing a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

The Guardian

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