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Stop and search on steroids

Stop and search on steroids

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What are Serious Violence Reduction Orders, and why are they controversial?


Transcript
Nimo omer, narrating:

Hello, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.

One story, every day, to make sense of the world.

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. 

It’s a big piece of  legislation which is meant to make huge changes to policing and sentencing in England and Wales. And it’s controversial. 

 People who criticise it see it as “oppressive” 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.

“Yeah, I’m here because I think we’re facing a really violent attack on our rights to protest and our freedoms to show dissatisfaction…” 

Protester speaking to the Independent

“Police 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 £2,500. Protesters who glue themselves to buildings or block roads could be put in prison for up to 51 weeks” 

Sky News

This week the House of Lords voted against the legislation on 14 points, including a lot of the protest restrictions. 

For campaigners it was a huge moment.

But there’s one really important part of the Bill – buried on page 131 – that’s received a lot less attention.

And it’s something one peer, Lord Paddick, feels particularly strongly about. 

Serious Violence Reduction Orders, or SVROs.  

Lord Paddick was a police officer for 30 years, rising to the most senior levels in London’s Metropolitan Police Service.

So if anyone’s going to understand just how concerning these proposals might be, it’s 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:

“We 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 oppressive…”

Boris Johnson delivering the 2019 Tory manifesto

SVROs were proposed by the government as a way of expanding stop and search powers. 

Under existing rules police have to have “genuine suspicion” that they might find a weapon when they search someone, and “reasonable grounds” to conduct the search. 

A history of previous offences doesn’t count as “reasonable grounds”. 

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 – 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. 

In 2019, government statistics showed that Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. 

“Historically, stop and search powers were seen as a way of harassing Black people, minority communities, the disproportionately white police force didn’t like the look of. The vast majority of people who are stopped, turn out to be innocent.””

So we returned to the story and Lara got to work. 

The Guardian

And there’s a concern that SVROs would be disproportionately applied to Black people too. 

The Home Office’s own consultation on SVROs actually said that could be the case. 

They wrote in 2020: “It may be that a disproportionate number of Black people are impacted, Black males in particular.” 

Here’s Lord Paddick speaking in the House of Lords…

“This 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.””

Lord 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 haven’t 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. 

If you are at the scene of a crime and someone who is also there, uses a knife or a weapon – or even has a knife or a weapon in their possession – and you “knew or ought to have known” that they had one, then you could get an SVRO.

Justice groups say that the SVRO rules sound a lot like an expansion of “joint enterprise”. 

That’s a part of the law that says that people can be prosecuted for violent crimes even if they didn’t commit any violent acts themselves. 

For years prosecutors successfully used “joint enterprise” to argue that a person should have been able to foresee that someone else might commit violence. Sometimes people were convicted even if they weren’t at the scene of the crime.

It’s another part of the law that Liberty, the human rights organisation, says is “used overwhelmingly” against Black people. 

The “joint enterprise” 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.

Here’s Lord Moylan, a Conservative peer, speaking in the House of Lords last week…

“The 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 – in some cases they may be merited – but in the case of ‘ought to know’ it’s extremely difficult to think that the burden placed by these orders on the people who received them is merited on the basis of not they’re carrying a knife not even that they know a knife is being carried but that they ought to have known a knife is carried. 

Lord 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.

Monday’s Lords vote might have seen some victories for our right to protest.

But there’s a lot still in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is giving campaigners pause. 

Today’s story was written and produced by Ella Hill.


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