Committee reports on Policing and Crime Bill
16 April 2009
New powers proposed in the Policing and Crime Bill remain overbroad and lacking in safeguards and, despite the Government’s intentions, could risk criminalising rather than protecting some of the most vulnerable members of society, says the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights in a report released today, Thursday 16 April 2009
The Committee is particularly concerned about the Government’s refusal to decriminalise children involved in prostitution, and new provisions giving the police powers to direct a child as young as 10 years old to leave an area, without necessarily taking into account the safety of that child or where they will go. While the Government has stated that it has no general wish to criminalise children, it contends that a criminal justice power to "remove those young people from the street and any immediate danger" may be necessary.
The Committee says it finds it
"surprising that the Government proposes to rely on the criminal justice system to address institutional or individual failures within the services available to children and young people. It appears to us to be more appropriate to strengthen the duties and capabilities of children’s services to respond to children involved in prostitution, rather than criminalise children for the state’s failures."
The Committee expresses concerns about a series of the provisions in the Bill, including:
- The creation of a new ‘strict liability’ offence of paying for sex with a ‘controlled person’, i.e. someone who may have been trafficked or is otherwise an unwilling sex worker. The Committee believes that knowledge that the sex worker is ‘controlled’ should be built into the offence.
- The Committee recommends again that a measure such as a free, anonymous hotline be introduced to make it more likely that someone who suspects a woman has been trafficked will report it, rather than being afraid of prosecution themselves.
- The new orders to close premises used for prostitution or pornography do not have enough safeguards built in for other people who may, for example, be made homeless by the closure, and the Committee says the power to make such closure notices should not be extended beyond police officers as is proposed.
- Broad new powers to search, and seize assets suspected of being the proceeds of crime, without a warrant and without an individual necessarily having been charged with an offence.
- Changes to the extradition system, including undertakings to return individuals to states, and extending the period of provisional arrest.
- The Government's failure to properly address the issue of retention of fingerprint, DNA or other data held on those, including children, not found guilty of any offence.
Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Committee, said;
"We remain concerned that parts of this Bill are constructed in such a way that they could actually increase the risks to some of the most vulnerable people in our society, such as children, or the victims of trafficking, even if that is not the Government’s intention."
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