Dangerous, disproportionate, unlawful: Liberty calls on Newport City Council to scrap unjustified PSPO plans

05 October 2015

Liberty has today delivered a letter to Newport City Council urging it to abandon plans that constitute a major threat to civil liberties – and an affront to the city’s Chartist legacy.

A consultation into the Council’s proposed Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) closes today. As drafted, the Order would place a blanket ban on begging, rough sleeping and free leaflet distribution, among other activities.

Liberty believes the PSPO would, if implemented, breach the rights of the people of Newport to respect for their private and family life and freedom of expression, protected under the Human Rights Act. Under the Act, the Council is bound not to behave in a way which would disproportionately affect those rights.

A mockery of Newport’s Chartist legacy

In its consultation paper, the authority expresses “a view to introducing a new and updated PSPO in time for the opening of the Friars Walk retail development in November 2015”.

Newport’s famous Chartist mural was demolished to make way for the development in 2013, resulting in significant outcry. The new retail park will include artwork commemorating the Chartists’ struggle, along with an engraving of the People’s Charter.

Ironically, the Chartists – whose demands were in large part motivated by widescale poverty and homelessness – made extensive use of the distribution of newspapers, pamphlets and posters in galvanising support.

Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty said: “These proposals make a mockery of Newport’s Chartist legacy. For the sake of a new shopping centre, the Council is pouring its energies into criminalising the most vulnerable in the city, and silencing means of dissent.
 
“This PSPO won’t house people, move them on, or help resolve their homelessness in any other way – it will simply fine them for their extreme poverty. We urge the Council in the strongest terms to reconsider these utterly shameful plans.”

The PSPO gives police and council officers the power to issue on-the-spot penalties of up to £100. If those in breach are unable to pay, they would face prosecution and a fine of £1,000.

Today’s letter to Council Leader Robert Bright details Liberty’s concerns that the proposed blanket ban on rough sleeping and begging: 

  • Constitutes an interference with Articles 8 and 10 of the Human Rights Act.
  • Will target vulnerable members of society with financial penalties they cannot possibly afford.
  • Will do nothing to address the underlying causes of homelessness and extreme poverty, or have any effect other than drawing impoverished people, many suffering mental health conditions, into the criminal justice system. 

The letter also advises that a blanket ban on free printed leaflet distribution:

  • Would inhibit campaigning by political and charitable organisations and the distribution of materials by religious organisations. The circulation of leaflets to those willing to receive such information is an important exercise of the right to freedom of expression. 
  • May also inhibit the right to protest, as information distribution is often a key feature of meaningful demonstration.

Liberty has also detailed its concerns with the Council’s consultation process, including that: 

  • No draft PSPO has been made available as part of the consultation.
  • The behaviours targeted by the Order were decided at a meeting of which there appear to be no publicly available minutes, agenda or records.
  • The online questionnaire is phrased in strikingly non-neutral terms and constitutes an extremely unreliable measure by which to consult the public.

Notes to editors

About PSPOs

  • PSPOs are intended to provide means of preventing activities that have a persistent and unreasonable detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the area. 
  • Created last year by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, PSPOs enable local authorities to criminalise activities that have a persistent and unreasonable detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the area. 
  • Liberty opposed their creation on the basis that they are too widely drawn, with vague definitions of what can be criminalised and disproportionately punitive sanctions, and would result in the fast-tracking of vulnerable individuals into the criminal justice system.
  • Liberty is campaigning to end the use of unfair, overbroad PSPOs which penalise the most vulnerable in our societies. In July, Liberty wrote to Birmingham City Council calling on it to abandon an intended PSPO placing a blanket ban on the use of amplification. In September, the Council dropped its plans.