Bishops oppose giving police power to search people for knives

NEW orders allowing police to search people for a knife or other offensive weapon will not be made without Parliament’s consent, under amendments to the Policing, Crime, Crime Bill sentencing and the courts successfully backed by the bishops in the House of Lords on Monday.

The government argues that Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs) will enable police to take a ‘more assertive and proactive approach’ to tackling the ‘habitual carrying of weapons by a number of offenders’, giving giving police an automatic right to search these offenders “without suspicion”. Offenses involving knives or sharp instruments increased by 84% between the year to June 2014 and the year to June 2020.

A court may issue an SVRO, in response to a request from the Crown, when an adult is found guilty of any offense in which a knife or offensive weapon was involved.

He could also make an SVRO if he is satisfied that a sharp article or offensive weapon was used by another person in the commission of the offence, and the offender “knew or should have known that would be the case. or if another person who committed the offense had such a weapon on them at the time of the commission of the offence, and the offender “knew or ought to have known that this would be the case”. The orders will be piloted across police forces in Sussex, Thames Valley, Merseyside and West Midlands.

Concerns have been expressed in both Houses of Parliament. Speaking at the report stage of the bill on Monday, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, warned that “an individual could . . . commit a traffic offense on their way home after a church picnic, with their used cutlery in the passenger seat next to them, and the prosecution could request an SVRO.

He also expressed concern that by including in the order those who “knew or should have known” that a third party was in possession of a weapon, the legislation risked “disproportionately affecting women and girls, who may very well know or suspect that a third party is in possession of a weapon”. partner or family member may carry a weapon but is far too vulnerable to be able to get out of a situation where violence involving such weapons can be committed by others”.

Lord Sentamu remembers being stopped and searched “several times” when he was vicar in Tulse Hill, south London, and when he was Bishop of Stepney. The stop and search had “gone wrong”, he suggested, because the police failed to comply with the requirement to search on “reasonable grounds”: “they just assume, and that creates difficulties within the community”.

AlamyThe Knife Angel, a sculpture made up of knives, outside the town hall in Barrow-In-Furness, Cumbria, on Sunday. It is intended to show the damage caused by knife crime

The Peers passed three amendments preventing the introduction of SVROs beyond the pilot until a report on the pilot has been tabled in Parliament and both houses have agreed to its deployment. They also passed an amendment detailing the evidence that must be included in the report.

Responding to the debate, Home Secretary Baroness Williams of Trafford stressed that a court “must consider it necessary to return the SVRO in order to protect the public or prevent re-offending”, and said that example of the picnic at church was unlikely to reach the threshold.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has spoken in favor of an amendment proposing the creation of a women’s justice council, modeled on the Youth Justice Council. “Women are caught up in a criminal justice system that was designed around men, and there needs to be a gender perspective,” she said.

Peers rejected the amendment, after Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, argued that, “unlike children in the criminal justice system, there is no separate legal framework for women”. The government’s strategy for women offenders has set out “a comprehensive program of work to address the needs of women in contact with or at risk of contact with the criminal justice system”, he explained.

Bishop Treweek has previously complained that the strategy has been “very slow to be implemented” (News, October 1, 2021).

Comments are closed.