With the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill having been met with many demonstrations across the UK, most of the opposition has focused on the bill’s restrictions on the right to protest - but one community - Travellers - fear the legislation threatens to criminalise their very way of life.

That's because the sweeping changes to the criminal justice system proposed in the controversial legislation include making "trespass with the intent to reside" a criminal offence, which campaigners say could worsen inequalities for Gypsy, Romani and Traveller communities, and leave them literally, nowhere to go.

If passed in its current form, the bill would mean that 'trespassers' at any given location - "with the intent to reside" - could have their vehicles seized for three months, and face three months in prison.

Allison Hulmes, a Welsh Roma and the founder of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association, told The National ,that she felt people “only became concerned” about the bill when they found out it infringed on their right to protest, but its potential impact  on traveller communities' existence has been overlooked.

Ms Hulmes calls the bill “cultural genocide” because of the way in which it will prevent traveller communities from living the way they have for centuries.

The charity Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) said that the power to seize a vehicle will in many cases for travellers - be people’s homes, and include all their possessions, adding that the law could be “catastrophic for a family - suddenly without a home or possessions and with the lead family member thrown into the criminal justice system.”

READ MORE:

Serious concerns have been raised about the vagueness of the bill’s section on protest, which includes making any protest with the potential to cause "serious annoyance" potentially illegal.

The trespass section has a similar problem. It states that an offence has been committed if disruption or damage has been caused “or is likely to be caused”. The bill’s definition of damage includes noise and odours.

FFT say “what constitutes ‘significant damage, disruption or distress is subjective and could potentially capture all," and argue there needs to be more locations where travellers are permitted to stop and reside, and that simply increasing enforcement will leave travellers with nowhere to go.

Under existing law, if Travellers are asked to move on from an area they are not permitted to return for three months. The bill would extend this to 12 months. And the real fear is that this would lead to travellers being forced out of areas of the country, as there would not be enough locations to reside.

FFT say that being forced to move area means Travellers cannot access healthcare, and have to take children out of school. And with average life expectancy rates for Traveller men and women 10 years lower than the national average, the new bill could add another debilitating factor to travellers' lives. 

Allison Hulmes says the problem goes back centuries:

“We’ve had 500 years of anti-gypsy legislation and policy in the UK, starting back in Tudor times, and this is the latest.”

In 2020, the Court of Appeal upheld that Gypsy, Romani and Traveller communities have an “enshrined freedom” to move from one place to another.

Regular ‘Kill the Bill’ protests have been seen in Cardiff and across the UK in response to the Police and Crime Bill which has passed its second reading in the House of Commons. It is now being considered by Parliament committees before a final vote.

The National put the concerns about the Bill to the Home Office. A spokesperson said: “The vast majority of Travellers are law abiding, and we recognise their right to follow a nomadic way of life in line with their cultural heritage, so any measures introduced will comply with equality and human rights obligations.

“This new offence will enable the police to arrest those residing on private or public land in vehicles who refuse to leave when asked to do so, in order to stop significant damage, disruption and distress being caused.

“This new offence will enable the police to arrest those residing on private or public land with vehicles who refuse to leave when asked to do so, where they have caused significant disruption, distress or harm.”

The National aims to cover politics in a measure and informative way. You can help us to do this by becoming a subscriber. Once we reach 1,000 subscribers, we will hire a dedicated political correspondent.