Four most controversial parts of Policing Bill which could see harsher penalty for damaging statue than attacking woman

A new law and order Bill is set to cause huge clashes in the Commons following events on Saturday at vigils held for Sarah Everard.

The government had been hoping its new so-called 'policing bill' would "restore confidence in the criminal justice system", but the conduct of officers at the chaotic vigils may have thrown that into jeopardy.

The Metropolitan Police has been accused of taking a heavy handed approach to managing the vigils for Sarah, who was found dead following her disappearance, after a number of women were arrested.

Many are furious at the police and Labour says now is "no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures" which will give police more powers.

The policing minister insisted the Bill will result in "quite mild adjustments" to "quite elderly" legislation from 1986, but Labour says it could "lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman".

Here we take a look at the biggest criticisms of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021:

1.) The Bill does not mention women at all:

Violence against women had been an issue that long needed tackling, well before the death of Sarah Everard highlighted the scale of the problem and the need for action.

In the wake of her death thousands of women have spoken out about their horrific experiences at the hands of men, from feeling harassed to being raped - but there is nothing in the policing bill that specifically sets out policies to tackle these problems.

In the government's defence, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was first introduced to the Commons before Sarah's fate was known.

But Labour says by not revising the Bill the government is overseeing a "missed opportunity to tackle violence against women and girls that has become endemic in the UK".

Boris Johnson has rubbished Labour's criticisms, saying it "goes much further in toughening sentences for rapists, for stopping the early release of serious sexual and violent offenders and it takes some new tough action against domestic violence".

Boris Johnson urges Labour to back the policing Bill:

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Bill "says lots of things about statues and almost nothing about protecting women and girls, and particularly dealing with violence against women and girls".

"This is a gaping hole in the legislation, government has got its priorities wrong, it should re-think," he added.

2.) It 'could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman':

The Bill will see the maximum penalty for criminal damage of a memorial from increased from three months to 10 years.

This aspect of legislation was written into the Bill in reaction to protests last summer which saw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston pulled down and resulted in calls for Winston Churchill's statue to face the same fate.

Officers have been accused of taking a heavy handed approach to policing the vigil for Sarah Everard. Credit: PA

But Labour says the punishment increase could "lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman".

The maximum penalty for attacking a woman could be much higher than 10 years however there is no mention in the legislation that specifically outlines penalties for attacks on women.

The maximum sentence for common assault is six months imprisonment, the punishment for actual bodily harm is five years maximum and the highest penalty for grievous bodily harm is a life sentence, though anything more than 10 years for GBH is rare.

3.) Rape cases and sentencing not specifically addressed

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer attacked the Bill, saying it "doesn't address the fact that sentencing for rape and stalking is too low".

But the Bill does look to up the minimum time served under discretionary life sentences, which judges can use to punish rapists.

The Bill will require courts to put a starting point for parole at least two thirds of the sentence.

"This will mean that the most serious offenders should serve longer in prison before they become eligible to be considered for release by the Parole Board, thereby ensuring that the punishment better reflects the severity of the crime," the government says.

But the Labour leader says should say something specific about rape sentences, about harassment and stalking sentences.

"It doesn't so it should be paused as we actually work together across the House and have something that begins to tackle this very long-standing issue."

MP Jess Phillips discusses the Sarah Everard case and what can be done to stop violence against women - listen to the ITV News Politics Podcast:

It comes after the the Court of Appeal rejected a legal challenge against the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over an alleged change in policy on prosecuting alleged rapes and other serious sexual offences.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) argued the CPS moved away from a "merits-based approach" to deciding which cases of alleged rape and other serious sexual assault should be prosecuted, which it said has given rise to "systemic illegality".

The CPS, however, said there has been no change in policy and argued at a hearing in January that the removal of dedicated "merits-based approach" guidance "did not result in any substantial change" in charging decisions.

In a judgement on Monday, the Court of Appeal dismissed the EVAW's case, ruling that the CPS did not change its policy in relation to the prosecution of sexual offences.

4.) The Bill could give police 'disproportionate controls' over protests

The conduct of officers at the vigil for Sarah Everard has led critics to question whether it is necessary to give police new powers over protests at this time.

The police were accused of 'kettling' many of those attending the vigil and the move to arrest non-violent protesters was also criticised, as was the general approach to the highly-emotional gathering.

Labour's shadow justice secretary David Lammy said "this is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest".

Following the Extinction Rebellion protests last year, which saw much of London brought to a standstill by demonstrations on roads and tube stations, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick suggested she needed extra powers that "would enable the police to deal better with protests".

She suggested the "very old" Public Order Act of 1986 needed updating to allow officers to better deal with non-violent protesters "intent to bring policing to its knees and the city to a halt".

The government says the legislation is simply seeking to help officers "better tackle unauthorised encampments, and safely manage protests where they threaten public order or stop people from getting on with their daily lives".

But Sir Peter Fahy, former Greater Manchester Police chief constable, said people should be "really worried about this", adding: "This weekend has shown the crucial importance of the right to protest, and you've got to be really wary of more legislation being rushed through just because certain politicians didn't like certain protests during the summer."

  • What is Labour calling for?

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the government to "pause the Bill, work across Parliament - there could be a serious piece of cross-party work now to deal with violence against women".

The party wants the Bill to include: - A new street harassment law- Whole life tariffs for anyone found guilty of a stranger abductor murder- An independent review to look into increasing sentences for domestic murder, as well as providing a statutory defence for domestic abuse survivors - A strategy to tackle the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face- Legislation to make misogyny a hate crime

MPs will debate the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 before voting on its second reading on Tuesday.