Dr Samantha Pegg, senior lecturer in law at Nottingham ...
Dr Samantha Pegg, senior lecturer in law at Nottingham Law School, asks how far we should go to clamp down on homelessness and begging.
ASBOs, those civil orders that sought to prevent a particular behaviour, have now been replaced with a number of measures.
There are now a bewildering array of orders in place to regulate anti-social behaviour, which will in part negate the ‘ASBO badge of honour’ problem – but the new regime is unlikely to make sense to the average person.
The new orders include the broadly similar Civil Injunction, and the more general Community Protection Notices and Public Spaces Protection Orders which can be used to prohibit any behaviour detrimental to the local community. (Post-conviction ASBOs have also been replaced, with Criminal Behaviour Orders: these can be imposed where they will be helpful in preventing the offender from engaging in anti-social behaviour.) The court can also impose requirements on offenders, so for example ordering attendance at a course to educate offenders on the effects of alcohol or drugs.
In practicality, like ASBOs, the new orders will be used to control non-criminal behaviours we have labelled troublesome; and will be used to regulate begging, rough sleeping and associated nuisance activities.
The homeless have historically been considered a dangerous class, and the Vagrancy Act 1824 continues to criminalise begging and lodging in unoccupied premises. The law concerning squatting was tightened up in 2012, and there are concerns that Public Spaces Protection Orders could now be used to ban those sleeping rough in city centres.
So should we use these new orders to clean up our public spaces? Persistent beggars such as Frank Hipwell, 47, of Kimboulton Avenue, Lenton – who was recently fined £440 after begging in the city centre – are rightfully criminalised, but we need to be careful the homeless in general don’t fall under this broad scheme.
Those who are the most visible and vulnerable should not fall victim to these orders merely by virtue of being on the streets. It seems we continue to consider homelessness and begging to be a choice, rather than accepting it is often the last resort for those who are desperate or suffering from addictions.
That we will (in limited cases) consider the needs of the person who has had the order imposed upon them offers a glimmer of hope. This said, using these orders is not an appropriate response. Where offences are committed, such as criminal damage and public disorder, the criminal law should be used to tackle the behaviour. Using civil orders marks a departure from due process, nuisances are simply moved elsewhere, and the consequences of a breach can be custody – for activities that are not, on the face of it, criminal.
Find Dr Samantha Pegg’s staff profile here.
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