Begging and sleeping rough aren't anti-social behaviour - they're the result of poverty
Councils should be helping the vulnerable - not slapping them with criminal records and unpayable fines
Why are Public Space Protection Orders important?
Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) are broad powers which allow councils to criminalise particular, non-criminal, activities taking place within a specified area. Unfortunately, we have frequently seen them used against the most vulnerable in our society, the homeless.
PSPOs are also being used to limit freedom of speech and the right to protest.
The power to impose PSPOs was created in 2014, under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. At Liberty we opposed their introduction – because they are too widely drawn, with vague definitions of what can be criminalised, and carry disproportionately punitive sanctions.
And we were right. Several local councils across the country have recently introduced – or consulted on – unfair and overbroad PSPOs. A range of measures have been proposed, including a ban on rough sleeping and “aggressive” and “persistent” begging – "persistent" being defined by the authority as begging “on more than one occasion”.
These proposals would restrict rights protected under the Human Rights Act – in particular Article 8, the right to a private and family life, and Article 10, the right to freedom of expression. Article 11, the right to protest and freedom of association, would also be impacted if plans to prohibit the handing out of free leaflets are brought forward.
PSPOs simply fast-track vulnerable people into the criminal justice system – rather than divert them away from it.
If somebody is forced to beg or spend the night in a public toilet, that’s not a lifestyle choice or anti-social behaviour – that’s extreme poverty. Local authorities should focus on finding ways to help the most vulnerable – not criminalise them and slap them with fines they can’t possibly pay.
Newport City Councilradically overhauled its proposed PSPO, following a letter from Liberty. As originally drafted, the Order would have placed a blanket ban on begging, rough sleeping and free leaflet distribution, among other activities. Both the provisions on rough sleeping and leaflet distribution have been abandoned, while that on begging has been watered down. These proposals would have risked breaching the right to private life, freedom of expression and protest, and we welcome the changes.
Cheshire West and Chester Council received a letter from Liberty during its consultation period, and has since indicated that it will not be going ahead with some of its worst proposals, which could have resulted in a breach of residents’ right to freedom of expression. Dropped proposals included restricting busking to designated areas, forcing musicians to gain “approved busker” status by passing quality tests, and criminalising anyone feeding birds in the city centre. A final decision is awaited.
BirminghamCity Council scrapped plans over a PSPO which would have made it a criminal offence for buskers, political or religious speakers to use any amplification in the city – threatening the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. Kadisha Brown-Burrell – who has previously held protests outside Birmingham Crown Court in her family’s fight for justice for her brother, Kingsley, who died after being detained by police –spoke up against the proposal, saying: “This is the beginning of shutting people up. It’s a democratic society, everyone has the right to protest and go onto the streets.”
Our lawyers wrote to the Council with our concerns about the impact the PSPO would have on protesters and religious groups, such as the Salvation Army, who frequently meet in public in the city centre.
Chelmsford County Council have recently closed their consultation on a PSPO which could see both articles 10 and 11 (the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest) being infringed. The Council has plans to target the use of advertising boards – whether on public or private land – that the public has access to, as well as the distribution of free literature (unless it falls within one of their specified purpose categories).
Salford City Council introduced a PSPO in August 2015 criminalising the use of all “foul and abusive language” in an area covering Salford Quays. Liberty wrote to Salford City Council requesting clarification on the imprecise parameters of the Order, advising that the PSPO could have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression. Liberty is particularly concerned that, in its current vaguely worded form, the Order will have a negative impact on artistic performers and political activists in the Salford Quays area.
Liberty is urging any Councils considering such Orders to think again. They have been met with almost universal opposition in other parts of the country, including in Hackney, where the local authority has withdrawn its PSPO following huge public concern.
We’re also looking to challenge any existing PSPO we consider to be unlawful in the Courts, if Councils don’t see sense.
If you’ve been affected by an unfair, overbroad PSPO – or if you know of other such Orders, elsewhere in the country – we want to hear from you! You can contact us by emailing Information@liberty-human-rights.org.uk