Over 660 frontline healthcare, community, social and education workers have called for the Policing Bill to be scrapped ahead of a key debate in the House of Lords next week.
In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, sent on Monday 13 September, the signatories warned that the Serious Violence Reduction Orders proposals in the Bill would require them to breach their professional duties of confidentiality and put young people in danger.
The letter has been backed by Liberty, the British Association of Social Workers and healthcare campaign group Medact.
The 665 signatories, including GPs, nurses, social workers, community youth and outreach workers, teachers, therapists, and many others, also objected to the creation of Serious Violence Reduction Orders.
These will create a new stop and search power that removes the requirement of ‘reasonable suspicion’ for police to search people.
‘As frontline community workers who have made a professional and personal commitment to supporting and caring for people, including young people, we are appalled by these proposals, which we believe directly conflict with our duties and will actively put people we work with in harm’s way…
‘We may soon be forced to betray the hard-earned trust and relationships we have built with young people, as well as our professional duties, in order to comply with police requests.
‘This will only have the effect of fomenting alienation and exclusion and making young people and their communities less safe.’
While the government has said it aims to follow a public health approach to tackling serious violence, these proposals constitute a police-led approach that will cause further harm, the letter says.
The Policing Bill is due to be debated in the House of Lords next week.
Since it was officially tabled earlier this year, the Bill has caused widespread outrage and the petition is the latest sign of a groundswell of objection to the government’s dangerous proposals, including:
Jun Pang, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: ‘We all want to feel safe in our communities and live our lives free from discrimination and harassment.
‘The proposals in the Policing Bill will not make us safer, they double down on failed and oppressive strategies that will ultimately put more people at risk.
‘The Policing Bill creates dangerous restrictions on our right to protest and threatens the way of life of Gypsy and Traveller communities.
‘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.
‘Peers must stand up for our rights and reject this Bill, and the government needs to reverse course on the array of dangerous proposals it contains.’
Dr Abi Deivanayagam – Specialty Registrar/Trainee in Public Health, said: ‘The serious violence duty in the Policing Bill pushes health workers to give information on patients to the police, which undermines confidentiality and risks breaking the trust patients have in health workers.
The police are agents of a system that relies on punishment to solve deep-seated social and economic problems that results in criminalised behaviours.
‘Public health is rooted in collective wellbeing, prevention and fairness for everyone in the community.
‘The Policing Bill does not align with the principles of public health, which is why hundreds of health workers are calling for it to be scrapped immediately.’
Reem Abu-Hayyeh, Interim Co-Director of Medact, said: ‘It’s extremely likely that the proposed serious violence duty will lead to racial profiling, a loss of trust in clinicians, and psychological distress.
‘We know this because it mirrors the Prevent counter-extremism policy in its focus on “pre-crime” interventions and its entry into patient-practitioner relationships.
‘Our research has shown that the Prevent duty in healthcare causes serious harms to public health, and it is clear that this new duty will too.
‘The government must scrap the PCSC Bill if it wants to be serious about public health, and particularly it must scrap the serious violence duty.’
Gavin Moorghen, Professional Officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said: ‘As social workers, our priority is to support the people we work with, and to uphold the highest professional standards and ethics in doing so.
‘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.’
Jodie Beck, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: ‘We all want to keep each other safe and Liberty has always supported reasonable and proportionate measures to combat Covid. But vaccine passports are not a solution – they mean more coercion and division.
‘Vaccine passports risk creating a two-tier society, and it is those people already marginalised whose rights and autonomy will be most affected.
‘A key way of maximising take up of the coronavirus vaccines is better education to support and empower people to give informed consent, with a full understanding of the risks and benefits to themselves and others.
‘Instead of even more coercion and threats in the form of vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations, politicians across the UK should be ensuring wide access to vaccines, and providing the support and resources needed to protect everyone.’
The judge-led inquiry into undercover policing, chaired by Sir John Mitting QC, is now set to examine evidence that CND was targeted for infiltration by both Special Branch and the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) of the Metropolitan Police during the 1980s.
Files released under the 30-year rule indicate that Special Branch reported on a number of CND events, including a national demonstration in October 1983 which was attended by over 200,000 people.
Police spies under the cover names ‘John Kerry’ and ‘Timothy Spence’ also infiltrated CND’s head office, and an East London group, sending regular reports to Scotland Yard and MI5 on the organisation’s activities.
The true identities of ‘John Kerry’ and ‘Timothy Spence’ are still not publicly known.
CND has instructed The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) to represent them at the inquiry.
PILC has issued an appeal to current and former members of CND to come forward with any information about the activities of ‘John Kerry’ and ‘Timothy Spence’, the two undercover officers known to have targeted CND in the 1980s.
The UCPI was announced by the government in 2015 in response to independent reviews which found ‘appalling practices in undercover policing’.
The inquiry is due to report its findings in full in 2023.
It will hear evidence in relation to CND’s infiltration by undercover officers in early 2022.
Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said: ‘CND has a long record of democratic engagement, working in a peaceful and open way to question and challenge government policies that put citizens in the way of great harm. We have been part of the very fabric of British society for over six decades, working widely across civil society.
‘It is shocking to discover that public resources were wasted on “infiltrating” CND as if we were a risk to life and limb or a threat to the security of the realm.
‘We hope that the Inquiry will provide us with an understanding of why this happened and help to ensure that our democratic rights to peaceful protest are assured.’
Paul Heron, solicitor at PILC, said: ‘The Special Demonstration Squad was set up in 1968 to monitor public disorder and criminality. It is therefore disturbing that officers were sent to spy on CND, a peace organisation.
‘The extent to which the British state has actively sought to infiltrate and potentially destabilise peaceful and democratic protest movements should alarm the general public.
‘We are urgently looking to hear from any current or past CND members who may have information about the activities of “John Kerry” and “Timothy Spence” so that this information can be brought before the Inquiry.’