Homelessness and public spaces

Police drop sanction criminalising poverty after Liberty challenge

Posted on 21 Mar 2022

The Metropolitan Police has dropped sanctions against a woman in North London, with a judge condemning the “lurid and wide ranging” notice the woman was served with.

The Metropolitan Police has revoked sanctions against a woman in North London after Liberty, acting on her behalf, successfully challenged the measures which would have criminalised her for activities such as begging.

Remarking on the Met’s revocation of the notice, District Judge Laws, stated that “Clearly these are draconian provisions which must be applied with a degree of humanity and proportionality. The Respondent will no doubt think carefully before imposing another notice in similar terms, which seem to me rather lurid and wide ranging.”

The woman, who is in her forties, was prosecuted after the Metropolitan Police accused her of breaching a Community Protection Notice (CPN) – which Liberty say should never have been issued in the first place.

Liberty’s client was handed a CPN by a Metropolitan Police Officer on 11 October 2021. CPNs prohibit individuals from engaging in certain behaviour, including even going into a shop “without a valid reason”. Liberty has warned that CPNs are often used to criminalise poverty.

Over the following months, she was forced to defend herself, represented by Commons solicitors, against criminal charges for allegedly breaching the CPN, and faced further sanctions under the discredited Vagrancy Act – which the Government has since agreed to repeal.

On her behalf, Liberty challenged the Metropolitan Police for their decision to issue the CPN. Liberty said that the Metropolitan Police breached the human rights of their client by issuing her with the notice.

The case had been due to go to a court hearing on Monday 21 March, but after five months and five court hearings, the police have now dropped all sanctions against the woman.

Liberty argued that the police had failed to issue the CPN correctly, having copied and pasted its terms rather than suggest the client was doing anything to actually require the sanction. They also failed to give her adequate warning, as required by law, and provided no evidence that she had engaged in the behaviour the CPN was supposed to deter.

Among other legal arguments, Liberty said the terms of the CPN breach the client’s right to human dignity, privacy and freedom of expression, and requested that the CPN be scrapped.

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 are designed to criminalise people who need help.

“Our client’s experience shows how unjust and perverse layers of laws are designed to ensnare people in poverty, and to make it harder and harder for them to avoid being criminalised for situations they can do little to avoid.

“The police should not be wasting public funds and court time by issuing unreasonable CPNs and bringing prosecutions that are not in the public interest. This U-turn from the Metropolitan Police should send a crucial message to all police forces and local councils that they must stop criminalising poverty and provide people begging and living in the streets with support instead.”


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