More than 600 experts from across the UK have warned that parts of the "oppressive" policing bill must be scrapped because it will force frontline professionals to betray the trust of vulnerable people and become complicit in surveillance.

Some 665 GPs, nurses, social, youth and outreach workers and teachers have penned a letter to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel warning that the police-led approach will cause further harm.

It follows a petition signed by almost 600,000 people opposing the proposals, while more than 30,000 people are said to have written directly to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to object.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will be debated in the House of Lords this week, is part of efforts to overhaul the justice system, cut offending and make streets safer.

The UK government wants to introduce a duty on public agencies, such as healthcare and education providers, to reduce and prevent serious violence and disclose information on service users.

It plans to bring in serious violence reduction orders to make it easier for police to carry out checks on people who have been previously convicted of carrying a knife.

Policing and justice is not devolved to Wales, with the UK Government controlling policing here, meaning the bill would come into effect across Wales and England.

Opponents to the bill here in Wales have already made the case that the bill is a further example of why policing and justice must be devolved to the Senedd. 

With the Welsh Government already having powers over health, education and other interrelated policy areas, those in favour of further devolution believe the criminal justice system and the powers to legislate on policing are the missing links to tackling systemic issues such as violence against women.

In the letter sent to Priti Patel today, signatories say they are "appalled" by the proposals which they believe "directly conflict with our duties and will actively put people we work with in harm’s way".

They write: "We believe that this bill will hinder our ability as frontline workers to effectively support the people with whom we work by eroding relationships of trust and duties of confidentiality.

"Most importantly, it will expand the criminalisation, surveillance, and punishment of already-overpoliced communities."

'Police should change approach to protecting women'
Why is policing and justice not devolved to Wales?
What is the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill?

The signatories fear the bill’s serious violence proposals will force them to become complicit in surveillance and hand over personal data even if it conflicts with their professional duties.

They are concerned this will prevent young people, particularly those of colour, from accessing vital services and make them feel less safe.

They also say that serious violence reduction orders will give police an "individualised, suspicionless" stop and search power with minimal safeguards, with people likely to face "intrusive monitoring".

Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said peers must reject the bill and called for the UK Government to "reverse course on the array of dangerous proposals it contains".

She said: "The new police powers it creates will lead to harassment and oppressive monitoring of young people, working class people and people of colour, especially black people, in particular, and expand existing measures that will funnel more people into the criminal punishment system."

Gavin Moorghen, professional officer at British Association of Social Workers, said: "The duty of confidentiality is crucial to our ability to protect people’s dignity and privacy, foster relationships of trust, and deliver high quality care.

"The policing bill may soon force us to betray the hard-earned trust and relationships we have built with young people, as well as our professional duties, by requiring us to be complicit in their criminalisation, surveillance, and punishment.

"The only effective approach to serious violence is to focus on the root causes such as poverty, racism, and other forms of structural injustice."

Reem Abu-Hayyeh, interim co-director of Medact, said the serious violence duty will have a similar effect to the Prevent counter-extremism policy, which causes "serious harms to public health".

She added: "It’s extremely likely that the proposed serious violence duty will lead to racial profiling, a loss of trust in clinicians, and psychological distress."

The letter comes amid concerns the bill’s aims of introducing tougher sentences and giving more powers to police could end up criminalising more vulnerable young women.

Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, and the Alliance for Youth Justice warn the proposals threaten to sweep more young women into the criminal justice system.

They argue this could undermine the Government’s ambition to reduce the number of women behind bars.

Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of Agenda, said: “Once in the criminal justice system they have limited access to specialist support and are left to deal with their entrenched and complex experiences of trauma, putting them at heightened risk of repeated offending.”

The director of the Alliance for Youth Justice, Pippa Goodfellow, called for more investment in specialist support services and said: “It is vital that systems and services work together to meet these growing and emerging needs, whilst standing firmly against punitive measures that will criminalise those most in need of support.”

A UK Home Office spokesperson said: “We are determined to make our streets safer by tackling serious violence at its roots.

“Cutting crime requires a joined-up response and the Serious Violence Duty ensures that all parts of the public sector work together to protect young people from harm.

“The Duty will hold specified authorities and bodies to account, not individuals. There will be no mandatory requirement for individual professionals to report information they hold under this Duty.”

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