What are Serious Violence Reduction Orders, and why are they controversial?
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Hello, Iâm Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.
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Today, the proposed new laws which have been called the biggest threat in recent history to civil liberties.
You might have heard of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.Â
Itâs a big piece ofÂ legislation which is meant to make huge changes to policing and sentencing in England and Wales. And itâs controversial.Â
Â People who criticise it see it as âoppressiveâ and something that will only worsen the crisis in public confidence of the police following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer.
âYeah, Iâm here because I think weâre facing a really violent attack on our rights to protest and our freedoms to show dissatisfactionâŠâÂProtester speaking to the Independent
âPolice would be able to put more conditions on protests including setting noise and time limits. Failure to comply could result in a fine, up to ÂŁ2,500. Protesters who glue themselves to buildings or block roads could be put in prison for up to 51 weeksâÂSky News
This week the House of Lords voted against the legislation on 14 points, including a lot of the protest restrictions.Â
For campaigners it was a huge moment.
But thereâs one really important part of the Bill â buried on page 131 â thatâs received a lot less attention.
And itâs something one peer, Lord Paddick, feels particularly strongly about.Â
Serious Violence Reduction Orders, or SVROs.Â Â
Lord Paddick was a police officer for 30 years, rising to the most senior levels in Londonâs Metropolitan Police Service.
So if anyoneâs going to understand just how concerning these proposals might be, itâs him.
So, what are they? And why are they causing so much controversy?
In their 2019 manifesto the Conservative party pledged to give police more power to stop and search people with a history of carrying a knife:
âWe can support our police, putting more and more on the street, support them in fighting knife crime. They say stop and search is inappropriate and oppressiveâŠâBoris Johnson delivering the 2019 Tory manifesto
SVROs were proposed by the government as a way of expanding stop and search powers.Â
Under existing rules police have to have âgenuine suspicionâ that they might find a weapon when they search someone, and âreasonable groundsâ to conduct the search.Â
A history of previous offences doesnât count as âreasonable groundsâ.Â
SVRO orders would change those rules.
Under the new proposals the courts could impose an SVRO on someone even if they have never carried a knife â and from then on police would have the power to stop and search that person whenever they were in a public place.
And this is really worrying campaigners.Â
In 2019, government statistics showed that Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.Â
âHistorically, stop and search powers were seen as a way of harassing Black people, minority communities, the disproportionately white police force didnât like the look of. The vast majority of people who are stopped, turn out to be innocent.ââ
So we returned to the story and Lara got to work.ÂThe Guardian
And thereâs a concern that SVROs would be disproportionately applied to Black people too.Â
The Home Officeâs own consultation on SVROs actually said that could be the case.Â
They wrote in 2020: âIt may be that a disproportionate number of Black people are impacted, Black males in particular.âÂ
Hereâs Lord Paddick speaking in the House of LordsâŠ
âThis is yet another form of stop and search without suspicion, which is notorious for three things. First, understandably, it is notoriously ineffective, even compared with stop and search based on suspicion. Secondly, it is, notoriously, disproportionately focused on black people, even compared with stop and search based on suspicion; and, as a consequence, it is notorious for the damage it causes to the relationship between the police and the communities it is supposed to help.ââLord Paddick speaking in the House of Lords
Campaigners say that SVROs not only risk expanding surveillance of already over-policed communities but dragging people who havenât committed any crimes into the criminal justice system.
If the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill passes then an SVRO could be applied to someone who has never actually used a knife or a weapon.Â
If you are at the scene of a crime and someone who is also there, uses a knife or a weapon â or even has a knife or a weapon in their possession â and you âknew or ought to have knownâ that they had one, then you could get an SVRO.
Justice groups say that the SVRO rules sound a lot like an expansion of âjoint enterpriseâ.Â
Thatâs a part of the law that says that people can be prosecuted for violent crimes even if they didnât commit any violent acts themselves.Â
For years prosecutors successfully used âjoint enterpriseâ to argue that a person should have been able to foresee that someone else might commit violence. Sometimes people were convicted even if they werenât at the scene of the crime.
Itâs another part of the law that Liberty, the human rights organisation, says is âused overwhelminglyâ against Black people.Â
The âjoint enterpriseâ doctrine was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016. But hundreds of convictions have still not been overturned.
This new Bill could bring a similar doctrine into play.
Hereâs Lord Moylan, a Conservative peer, speaking in the House of Lords last weekâŠ
âThe government is proposing that that people should be subject to these orders which are serious constraints on their liberties and which have severe reputational consequences potentially for them â in some cases they may be merited â but in the case of âought to knowâ itâs extremely difficult to think that the burden placed by these orders on the people who received them is merited on the basis of not theyâre carrying a knife not even that they know a knife is being carried but that they ought to have known a knife is carried.ÂLord Moylan speaking in the House of Lords
There is some hope for campaigners.
As well as voting against the legislation on 14 points this week, the Lords also passed an amendment on the SVRO proposals that forces the government to trial the scheme first in four police forces across England.
Still, it means the expansion of stop and search powers will go ahead in some capacity in those areas. The results of the trial will determine whether SVROs are introduced nationwide.
Mondayâs Lords vote might have seen some victories for our right to protest.
But thereâs a lot still in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is giving campaigners pause.Â
Todayâs story was written and produced by Ella Hill.
Plenty of people take wrong turns in their lives. But so too can justice systems. John Crilly and hundreds more have been the victims of the legal doctrine of Joint Enterprise and how it has been applied for the past 30 years