Punishing Gravesend’s poorest: Liberty urges Gravesham Borough Council to ditch unjustified PSPO plans

12 November 2015

  • Consultation on planned Public Spaces Protection Order closes this week
  • Order could see people fined up to £1,000 for rough sleeping or begging

Liberty has today written to Gravesham Borough Council urging it to abandon plans that would penalise the poorest and most vulnerable people in Gravesend.

A consultation into the Council’s proposed Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) closes on Sunday (15 November). 

As drafted, the Order would place a blanket ban on a number of activities including begging, rough sleeping and lying down in a large area of Gravesend town centre.

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 could face prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.

Liberty believes the Order may, if implemented, breach the rights of the people of Gravesend under the Human Rights Act. The Council is bound by the Act not to behave in a way which would disproportionately affect those rights.

Unnecessary, counter-productive, unlawful

In today’s letter, Legal Officer Rosie Brighouse advises the Council to abandon its “unnecessary, counter-productive and potentially unlawful” plans, highlighting Liberty’s concerns that:

  • The proposed blanket ban on lying down, sleeping and begging will target highly vulnerable – and likely destitute – members of society with financial penalties they cannot afford.
  • In its consultation document, the Council expresses its concern to “offer advice and assistance to those who find themselves without accommodation and who may be vulnerable”. However a PSPO is an extremely blunt instrument, incapable of addressing such needs – it gives officers no powers beyond issuing a Fixed Penalty Notice or pursuing a criminal charge in the magistrates’ courts and cannot help tackle the causes of homelessness.
  • The prohibition is far too broad, covering lying down, sleeping and depositing “any materials used or intended to be used as bedding in any public space” – meaning activities such as lying in Woodlands Park in the summer would, perversely, become a criminal offence.
  • The PSPO also proposes a blanket ban on pigeon feeding – an activity so innocuous or potentially inadvertent that it is unlikely it could ever warrant a criminal sanction and the risk of a £1,000 fine.
  • PSPOs should be only be used to restrict activities which have a detrimental effect on local residents’ quality of life – but the Council has so far failed to provide sufficient evidence showing that the activities it proposes to prohibit are having such an effect, or demonstrating their prevalence.

Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty, said: “Slapping the most impoverished in society with unaffordable fines does nothing to address the underlying causes of poverty – it simply pushes the vulnerable and destitute into the criminal justice system and a downward spiral of debt.

“We hope the Council will carefully consider our letter and the other consultation responses – and then abandon these deeply misguided plans.”

Notes to editors:

For more information, or for a copy of the letter sent to Gravesham Borough Council, contact the Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656, 07973 831128 or pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk.

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 June, Liberty obtained a legal opinion on PSPO proposals under consideration in Oxford. This opinion caused Oxford City Council to defer its decision, resulting in significant amendments being made to the Order in light of our concerns. 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. Earlier this month, Liverpool City Council abandoned similar PSPO plans on the basis that they were simply “a bit daft”.