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Crime Bill: What is it and why is it controversial as Kent MPs back legislation that is tough on protests and increases sentences


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Kent MPs have swung behind the government’s controversial Crime Bill which would give the police more powers to control demonstrations and protests.

There has been growing concern over some aspects of the Bill, in particular measures to introduce a new public nuisance offence.

The vigil in Clapham Picture: PA
The vigil in Clapham Picture: PA

Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch, in her first in-person address in the House of Commons since her cancer treatment ended, said the police were too often criticised for their conduct and that "99% of the time" they were doing their job.

She said: “It is unfortunate that recent events have overshadowed the good intention of copious measures in this bill. We do need to do more to protect women and children - why should we be afraid to walk somewhere or even exercise after dark?

“Rather than kill off this Bill we should be working cross-party to strengthen it. I am a supporter of the police and I think too often we do not stand up for them; we read about them when they mishandle things but not the 99% of the time they are silently working to keep us safe.

“But measures in this bill will help protect emergency workers not least by doubling the maximum sentence for assault on key workers.”

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, who had been among MPs critical of the handling of the vigil for Sarah Everard, accused critics of confusion over the Covid emergency powers with the Crime Bill.

Tracey Crouch addresses the Commons

“The bill protects the public who we are here to serve," he said, "The prevention of early automatic release of violent offenders has to be right; the public have for too many years wondered what madness we have had that it wasn’t so.

"Strengthening powers over protests that cause public disruption seems to be a concern; what we saw at Clapham Common was not an edifying scene but was because of the Draconian Covid legislation that I haven’t supported throughout.”

The government’s flagship crime bill has come under intense scrutiny since the tragic death of Sarah, with politicians focusing on the plans to widen the powers of the police to control marches.

But the Bill - at more than 200 pages - has many other measures and proposals that have come under the spotlight.

MP Craig Mackinlay
MP Craig Mackinlay

MARCHES AND PROTESTS

This is the main thrust of the government's plans and aims to give the police greater powers over the kind of protests staged by environmental and other campaign groups. It follows the disruption in London caused by Extinction Rebellion.

It will see a new offence of public nuisance to help police controlling protests and marches. It will cover conduct which endangers the life, health, property or comfort of the public, or obstructs the public in the exercise or enjoyment of rights common to the public.

Conduct deemed to fit this new offence will include nuisances such as producing excessive noise or smells, or offensive or dangerous behaviour in public, such as hanging from bridges.

Police chiefs will be able to put more conditions on static protests by imposing a start and finish time and set noise limits.

OTHER MEASURES

  • Making it illegal for sports coaches and religious leaders to engage in sexual activity with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care
  • Increasing the maximum penalty for criminal damage to a memorial, from three months to 10 years; this follows the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol
  • Doubling sentences for low-level assaults against emergency service workers to two years
  • On terrorism, the police will have more powers to closely monitor offenders released from prison
  • Allowing judges to impose whole life orders for the premeditated murder of a child; judges will also be able to give the maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, such as for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life
  • The automatic release halfway through a sentence of serious and violent sexual offenders will be scrapped; for offenders sentenced to between four and seven years for certain sexual and violent offences the automatic release point will be the two thirds point
  • There will also be the ability to stop the automatic early release of offenders who pose a danger to the public
  • Introduction of Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), a new court order. The police would be able to search without reasonable grounds those who have an SVRO; giving the police stop and search powers to target adults convicted of knife and offensive weapons offences
  • Amendment to the Road Traffic Act 1988 so trained police drivers are no longer compared to regular drivers for the offences of dangerous and careless driving
  • Life sentences for killer drivers
  • Introduce a serious violence duty on specified authorities to work together to prevent and reduce serious violence

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