The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has enraged many in recent weeks. Amongst many disparate proposals with in the act, (most notably at present being the increased police powers to restrict protest) is the criminalisation of trespass, relating specifically to ‘unauthorised encampments’. Due to the public outcry at the oppressive measures, the bill’s processing has been delayed delayed until June the 24th where the public bill committee will publish its report.
The terms of the proposed measures in part 4 of the bill are an unveiled attack on the Traveller community and are tantamount to an ethnic and cultural cleansing. Not only is this discrimination intolerable, this bill will have an immense impact for all those who also seek access, for all manner of reasons, to the countryside.
The trajectory of the tory’s plans to crackdown on Traveller sites has grown in severity over the last year. As it looks now, not only will it create a new criminal offence of trespass with intent to reside but also willl strengthen the police powers to enforce penalties against trespassers. An ‘unauthorised encampment’ will be defined as anyone accompanied with a vehicle, even intent to bring a vehicle onsite will fit the conditions. Refusal to vacate will be punishable by arrest, vehicle seizure, fines of up to £2500 and up to a 3 month prison sentence.
Vilifying the Traveller community
Primarily, this legislation launches an attack on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. By targeting road site camps it criminalises a whole way of life. This bill can further banish families from ancestral stopping places, by extending the period of prohibited return from 3 to 12 months. Homes can be seized and held for up to 3 months or longer should court proceedings exceed this. Already horrendously marginalised by larger society, the bill brings in to focus the blatant discrimination faced by Travellers both in law and at a local level.
The government intends to criminalise roadside sites without offering any kind of alternative. As Families Friends and Travellers continue to highlight, even the police respondents do not support the prospect of this new legislation and point to the problem being lack of legal site provision. Critically, the GRT people are being pushed out of any lawful manner to pursue their birth right of a life on the road. FFT continue; “there is a chronic national shortage of places to stop. The Government should not imprison people, fine them and remove their homes for the ‘crime’ of having nowhere to go.” In light of the current housing crisis in the UK an ever growing number of people are opting to live in vehicles. This bill vilifies all those who choose to live nomadically and enforces an ideology that housing ought to be private and sedentary. We must stand in solidarity with Travellers facing the brunt of this racist legislation.
Restriction of Protest
Criminalising trespass is connected to a larger narrative of quelling any kind of insurgent behaviour. The eviction of protest sites will also be streamlined with this widening of the goal posts of what defines a criminal encampment. Undoubtedly first to feel the flexing of new eviction muscle power will be the camps dotted all along the HS2 line. These sites are are already facing daily repression through encroachment of boundary fences, evictions using archaic common law and abusive security. Criminalising trespass with intent to reside on the land will cast all once legal land occupation in to legal precarity, thereby stumping a hugely important means of creating autonomous space.
Unhappily, this legislation also runs alongside new laws on ‘public order’ intended to crack down on rights of protests and increase penalties for those who partake in them.This bill will increase the police’s power of crowd control and dispersal at demonstrations thereby imposing new restrictions on rights to assemble in protest. There is frequent overlap between what can be described as a protest and encampment, as occupying an area is a vital method of protest. The conjoining of these new oppressive measures means we are facing authoritarian encroachment on our rights to demonstrate freely. Priti Patel’s efforts to outlaw any kind of resistive activity must not quell our efforts, and only spur on a redoubling of them.
Erosion of land rights
From the enclosures to the present day HS2 land grabs criminalising intentional trespass is part of a long succession of land dispossession from ordinary people. The bill protects the interests of wealthy landowners that monopolise vast swathes of the English countryside.We are already divorced from 92% of the land by existing civil law of trespass. This bill further enshrines the doxa of private property in criminal law. In England 1% of the population, (a third of which is the Aristocracy), owns 50% of the land. This galling disparity of access to green space is taken as a given. Our rights of access to these huge areas of natural beauty is a question never ventured, a notion fenced off by naturalised lines of barbed wire in the mind. A year in lockdown has made the therapeutic importance of the natural world even more evident, yet simultaneously enforced on us is legislation to further divide us from it. People should be entitled to lawful access to the bounty of green space present in the UK, and this is of foundational importance to those who live on the road.
Impact on free party culture
The past year has been numbing for the free party scene, with the imposition of extortionate fines on crews and party goers alike as well as the proliferation of bad press surrounding ‘super spreader’ events. However, this bill represents the biggest threat to underground culture since the infamous Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The aftermath of the famous Castle Moreton party prompted the creation of new anti-rave legislation criminalising amplified music “predominantly characterised by the emission of succession of repetitive beats”. It also forged the offence of ‘aggravated trespass’. These new laws outline amendments to that Criminal Justice Bill that “broaden the types of harm that can be caught by the power to direct trespassers under that provision, to include damage, disruption and distress.” It is significant for parties that sucha cause of ‘distress’ emitted by ‘unauthorised encampments’ is listed as “excessive noise”as a supposed harm. This emphasis on sound pollution in conjunction with vehicle relatedtrespass offences might well be the final nail in the coffin for the the rave scene in swelling the ammunition in the police’s legal arsenal for shutting down gatherings.All manner of parties will be impacted by the new emphasis on ‘intent to reside’ indicated by vehicle presence. The most obvious target being the standard large volumes of vehicles on private and public land at outdoor parties, but even a few vehicles parked outside a squatted building will also fall in to this new category of criminal offence. Ultimately, the cops are likely to use the conditions with in these new powers very loosely in order to shut down raves more easily and impose greater penalties on attendees as a deterrent. We ought to wise up on these changes now in order to be better equipped to challenge them.
So, the time ripe for planning our defiance. The current protests (#KILL THE BILL) are galvanising opposition across the country. We can learn from a history of land struggle both in the UK and around the globe to see that resistance is fertile. Many different groups are rallying opposition to the bill and it is vital like minded people learn from, support and connect with them, (check out links below). We wait with bated breath to see how the specifics of the legislation will be decided. Crucially, we must never stop trespassing, squatting, occupying, roaming and residing. Criminalising these activities will only make them all the more politically powerful.
Join your local networks, form new active groups and join the resistance of anti-trespass laws.
The Book of Trespass, Nick Hayes
Some Relevant Groups and Campaigns:
NFAt -No Fixed Abode Travellers : https://nfats1.wixsite.com/nfatscollective
RAT – Resisting Anti-Trespass : https://ra-t.org
FFT Family Friends and Travellers : https://www.gypsy-traveller.org
Right to Roam : https://www.righttoroam.org.uk
Moving for Change : https://www.movingforchange.org.uk