Crime commissioner says new Government bill 'misses a huge opportunity' to address violence against women

The government’s controversial police bill does nothing to tackle the “day to day reality of attacks on women”, according to the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 2:49 pm

Critics have slammed the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill this week over a lack of action to protect women and a crackdown on protests.

Despite welcoming large parts of the bill, Kim McGuinness says it “misses a huge opportunity” to address violent crimes against women and that the curbs on protesting are “worrying”.

The Labour PCC, who is up for re-election in May, said: “There’s a lot to support in this Crime Bill, including tougher sentences for those who target children, and also in offering more protection for our police and emergency workers, something I have called for during my time as Police Commissioner.

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Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness

“It also stops the automatic early release of dangerous prisoners, which is a step in the right direction.

“But it misses a huge opportunity to address the day to day reality of attacks on women, doing nothing to make it easier for women to get justice if they have been raped, for example.

“Alongside that is a worrying crackdown on the ability to protest. We have a proud tradition of free speech, and I’m worried that peaceful protest will be shut down as a result of this bill .”

The bill cleared its first hurdle in the House of Commons this week, passing a second reading after a Labour move to block it from being considered further was defeated.

The government’s plans have attracted fierce criticism from Labour for trying to give police more power to put more restrictions on protests judged to be too noisy and thereby causing “intimidation or harassment” or “serious unease, alarm or distress” to the public.

Critics have also attacked a proposal to make defacing statues punishable by up to 10 years in prison, theoretically a tougher punishment than for rape – for which sentencing currently starts at five years.

The row over the bill intensified after controversy over the Metropolitan Police’s handling of a vigil held last weekend at Clapham Common for Sarah Everard.

The bill also includes tougher sentences for child killers and those who cause death on the roads, longer jail terms for serious violent and sexual offenders, and changes to child sex abuse laws to tackle abusers in positions of trust such as sports coaches and religious figures.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said that the curbs on protests were needed after a “significant change in protest tactics, with protesters exploiting gaps in the law which have led to disproportionate amounts of disruption”.

Introducing the bill this week, she said: “This bill will give police the powers to take a more proactive approach in tackling dangerous and disruptive protest. The threshold at which the police can impose conditions on the use of noise at a protest is rightfully high.

“The majority of protesters will be able to continue to act, make noise as they do so now, without police intervention. But we are changing it to allow the police to put conditions on noisy protest that cause significant disruption to those in the vicinity. As with all our proposals, the police response will still need to be proportionate.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson said the government was doing “everything that we can” to make the streets safer for women and that a “cultutal and social change” was needed to ensure women are heard and protected.

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