” Blatant attempts to criminalise those with nothing is wrong, homelessness can never be a crime, the fact that it exists should be.”
Liberty, acting for a homeless man in Camden, has successfully challenged sanctions handed to him by the police, which criminalised activities such as ‘loitering’ on any pavement or public street in London without a pre-arranged appointment.
In a legal appeal to the Met Police, Liberty argued the notice amounted to a ‘blanket ban on begging’, with a series of ‘overly broad and unclear’ and unlawful conditions that included not being allowed to be in possession of any open containers or cups.
Liberty’s client, a 46-year-old man, was handed a Community Protection Notice (CPN) by a Metropolitan Police Officer in March. CPNs can be handed out by police and council officers prohibiting individuals from engaging in certain behaviour. Liberty has warned that CPNs are often used to criminalise poverty.
The man, who is not a native English speaker, had been living in a tent in the Tottenham Court Road area but under the conditions of the CPN was prohibited from pitching a tent or any bedding in a public place in the borough of Camden – essentially removing him from his only form of accommodation.
The man was handed a translated copy of the conditions that were placed upon him, but did not receive a translated copy of the part of the CPN that outlined his right to appeal and the time frame for exercising it, breaching parts of the Anti-social, Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
Liberty’s client, in not understanding some of the broad and unclear conditions placed upon him, continued to live in his tent which carried a maximum fine of £2,500.
On his behalf, Liberty challenged the Metropolitan Police for their decision to issue the CPN on the grounds that many of the conditions were unlawful and went against his basic human rights. The police dropped the CPN before it went to a hearing. Among other legal arguments, Liberty said the terms of the CPN breach the client’s right to privacy and freedom of expression, and requested that the CPN be scrapped.
The man is now in temporary accommodation and has found work.
Liberty has recently joined forces with several front line organisations, including Streets Kitchen and the Museum of Homelessness, to launch new “bust” cards to help others avoid harsh penalties for living in the streets and begging.
Liberty lawyer Lara ten Caten said:
“If any of us becomes homeless or finds ourselves out on the streets, we should be able to find support and safety. But rather than try to engage with the root causes of this issue, CPNs criminalise people who need help.
“Police powers are being used far too broadly, and in this case illegitimately, to criminalise people for situations they can do little to avoid. The Government has committed to scrapping the Vagrancy Act. The police are, however, still criminalising poverty by issuing CPNs such as this one – which stopped our client from even walking down certain streets, or from possessing a cup – which amounts to a blanket ban on begging.
“We are pleased that the Met Police have dropped this sanction, and hope that this case sends a crucial message to councils and police that they must stop criminalising poverty and provide people living on the streets with any support they need to lead dignified lives.”
A spokesperson from Streets Kitchen said:
“Far too often we encounter on our outreaches those experiencing homelessness being targeted by the police and Camden council for no other reason than simply having nowhere else to go or put their heads down.
“This case is a typical example of the Police and local authorities abusing their powers against very vulnerable people in an attempt to move the ‘problem’ out of sight and removing them from any kind of support network they may have developed or need. This successful result of Liberty’s challenge once again shows that sharing knowledge, compassion and standing together in solidarity can generate much needed positive change. Blatant attempts to criminalise those with nothing is wrong, homelessness can never be a crime, the fact that it exists should be.”