Police Act violates Gypsy Traveller rights, court rules

May 15, 2024

The High Court of Justice has ruled that sections of the Police Act 2022 – which allowed police to seize caravans and ban Gypsies and Travellers from an area for 12 months – are discriminatory and a violation of human rights.

The landmark ruling has been hailed as “hugely significant” by the lawyers bringing the case, representing Romany woman Wendy Smith, with Friends, Families and Travellers and Liberty acting as interveners. London Gypsies and Travellers (LGT) supported their case.

Marc Willers KC of Garden Court Chambers said: “The Court recognised that there is a lack of lawful stopping places for Gypsies and Travellers and that unless the government increases provision, the law as currently drafted will amount to unjustified race discrimination.”

Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, police gained the power to ban Gypsies and Travellers from an area for up to 12 months (increased from three months), alongside powers to fine, arrest, imprison and seize the homes of Gypsies and Travellers on roadside camps. However, the High Court judge has ruled that these powers discriminate against these communities without justification, breaching rights to respect for private and family life and causing “significant intrusion” on lives.

As a result, Parliament will have to review those provisions to ensure compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Wendy Smith, who was supported by the York Travellers Trust to bring the case, welcomed news of the ruling. She said she hoped it would take some pressure from her life, and reduce the threat of caravans being taken away when people had no other option put to live at the side of the road.

The Police Act has given police draconian powers since it came into force in 2022. However, the National Police Chiefs’ Council has said that the powers do not solve the “key issue to address on a national level in respect of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, [which] is the lack of appropriate accommodation for them”.

Nancy Hawker, LGT’s Policy and Research Officer, said: “People in caravans have been stuck in a pothole, between the failure of authorities to permit or provide authorised pitches and the laws that put them in prison and confiscate their property when parked on unauthorised sites.”

“LGT is encouraged by the High Court’s declaration that sections of the Police Act are incompatible with human rights legislation. Now we would like to see the provision of as many authorised transit and permanent pitches as are needed to protect the Gypsy, Roma and Travellers’ nomadic way of life, after decades of neglect and discrimination.”

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