Government to be challenged in High Court over ‘discriminatory’ PCSC Act

Tuesday 16 January 2024

FFT will be represented by Stephen Simblet KC and Nadia O’Mara of Garden Court Chambers, instructed by Parminder Sanghera of Community Law Partnership (CLP).

Wendy Smith will be represented by Marc Willers KC and Ollie Persey of Garden Court Chambers, instructed by Chris Johnson of CLP.

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On 23 to 24 January 2024, a judicial review challenging the new police powers brought in by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (2022) will take place in the High Court.

The judicial review will hear arguments against the PCSC Act’s (Part 4) powers to fine, arrest, imprison and seize the homes of Gypsies and Travellers living on roadside camps, and is being challenged as ‘discriminatory’ for targeting minority ethnic communities who have no alternative stopping places.

The case is being taken to the High Court by Wendy Smith, a Romany Gypsy, as Claimant, with Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) and Liberty acting as Interveners.

The core arguments will include:

  • Submissions on the ‘arbitrariness’ and ‘chilling effect’ of the new powers;
  • Empirical and anecdotal evidence of the actual and perceived impact of the new powers on the ability to maintain a nomadic way of life;
  • Evidence of the shrinking ability of Gypsies and Travellers to maintain a nomadic way of life on account of a severe lack of safe stopping places.

FFT has consistently raised concerns on the PCSC Act’s legal standing, as well as to its draconian attack on Gypsies and Travellers living on roadside camps due to a lack of safe stopping places.

Speaking about on the legal challenge, Sarah Mann, Chief Executive Officer at Friends, Families and Travellers said:

“We welcome the positive news that a judge sitting in the High Court believes there is a case to be made against the PCSC Act’s extreme approach to roadside camps. You cannot use the full force of the law to tell people where they can’t go without offering alternatives for where they can, and we look forward to supporting Wendy Smith’s case as interveners.”

Marc Willers KC of Garden Court Chambers argues:

“Nomadism is an intrinsic part of the traditional way of life of Gypsies and Traveller that the government has a duty to respect and facilitate. The obvious and rational solution is to provide more designated transit sites and stopping places. 

Instead, in 2022, the government took the decision to strengthen existing enforcement powers. My client now has the opportunity to challenge that decision and to persuade the Court that the new powers have a disproportionate effect on Gypsies and Travellers and unlawfully discriminate against them.”

On their written submission to the hearing, Louise Whitfield, Head of Legal Casework at Liberty, stated:

“The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act criminalises the way Gypsy and Traveller communities live and is a direct and hostile attack on their way of life. The powers in the Act are discriminatory and disproportionate. The Act gives the police vague, sweeping powers to do things like seize vehicles – potentially leaving families, including children, destitute.

It also completely ignores the chronic national shortage of places where Gypsies and Travellers can stop or reside, or the fact the police already have ample powers to remove people from land. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are among the most persecuted and marginalised communities in the UK. Instead of criminalising an entire way of life for Gypsies and Travellers, the Government should be seeking to make sure their rights are respected and upheld.”

The above content has been reproduced from a Friends Families & Travellers  (FFT) press release.

The case has received press coverage in openDemocracy and Travellers Times.

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