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Difficult Dialogue: New Legislation and Impact on Cohesion

We Stand Together’s latest Difficult Dialogue, in partnership with the Traveller Movement, titled ‘New Legislation and Effects on Cohesion’, was held at the Limelight Hub in Old Trafford last week with many also present on Zoom. The event gave participants an opportunity to explore the implications of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and upcoming proposals to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a Bill of Rights and posed some key questions:

  • How will legislation affect the rights of the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller (GRT) community?

  • What is the potential impact upon the right to lawful and peaceful protests?

  • How should We Stand Together and others be responding to these changes?

The event was introduced by Sally Carr, Adviser to the Traveller Movement. Sally spoke about how every person has an intersectional identity and how people are discriminated against for certain aspects of their identity. She spoke about how prejudice, stereotypes and anti-gypsy sentiments were being codified into law through the new legislation that came into effect in June.

Sally explained that the GRT community was one of the most disadvantaged groups across Europe, suffering from both racial discrimination and class conflicts. The new law puts this group in even more precarious situation. While the Equality Act affords some protection to this community, it only covers Irish Travellers and Romani Gypsies. Sally asserted that the traveller community is much more diverse and many members of the community are excluded from the protections offered by the Equality Act.

Sally explained that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act targets GRT communities by changing trespass from a civil offence to a criminal one. It criminalises them if they move and if they stop beyond permanent sites; leaving them in an impossible situation because permanent sites are not readily available and are often in a state of disrepair.

The law would allow those from Gypsy and Travellers to be arrested simply on suspicion, possibly leading to a fine of £2500, confiscation of homes, jail time and children belonging to such families being placed into care. Sally suggested that such subjective interpretation can lead to a host of discriminatory issues for an already disenfranchised minority. This law reflects a long-standing ideology of exterminating and enslaving Gypsy and Traveller community members and she believes that it is a direct attempt to eradicate an ancestral way of life that has been present in these lands for over 500 years. Conversations with police officials had suggested that the law would be very difficult to enforce.

The law is punitive and discriminatory and thus should be repealed immediately. There was an urgent need to provide good quality, permanent sites for travellers and for the police needed to adopt a more humanitarian approach; one that focuses on negotiation and dialogue with diverse communities rather than enforcement.

Jonny Wineberg, Director of Operations for We Stand Together, then gave a brief overview of the upcoming bill of rights which overhauls the Human Rights Act passed in 1998 and is meant to restore ‘common sense’ to the law. He explained that the Bill could curtail the right to protest, remove the onus on authorities to proactively safeguard rights, make it harder for migrants and refugees to seek and attain justice and make it harder to hold authorities accountable. However, the Bill does add to existing protections for some minorities and thus there is a need to ensure that those promised protections are delivered.

There then followed breakout group discussions on the key questions followed by feedback. Participants suggested that recent legislation has aimed to confine and curtail civil liberties and restrict the rights of minority identities. These new laws have encouraged right wing extremism and perpetuated the idea that hate crimes and acts of aggression against minorities will go unpunished.

Participants asserted that the recent political turmoil has been used as a diversion to pass these laws whilst the attention of the general populace is elsewhere. They voiced that such laws should be mainstreamed and the public made more aware of legislation. It was suggested that organisations like #WeStandTogether could connect and raise awareness of changes to the law that would otherwise go unnoticed and make it more accessible and digestible for laypeople to understand how they affect communities experiencing discrimination.

One participant suggested that using examples and case studies such as discussed in this event helps humanise the law and its ramifications on the lived experiences of real people. It was also voiced that local councils need to be engaged as they too might be entirely oblivious about the changes in the law. Training should be offered to schools, colleges and councils to help educate them on these issues.

Jonny thanked everyone for participating and encouraged them to set up their own #WeStandTogether groups in their communities. He shared that #WeStandTogether is still offering £250 microgrants to help communities hold cohesion events and form #WeStandTogether groups.

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