Rough sleepers’, protesters’ and disabled residents’ rights at risk: Liberty urges Enfield Council to abandon discriminatory PSPO plans

25 November 2016

Liberty has written to Enfield Council urging it to abandon proposals that could penalise the vulnerable and chip away at residents’ civil liberties.

The council is considering using a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to introduce 18 separate criminal offences. PSPOs are disturbingly broad powers that let local authorities ban a huge range of activities. 

A public consultation into the plans, which closes on Monday (28 November), outlines the council’s intentions to ban “sleeping or living in a public place without consent” and to criminalise “annoying” public speakers, the latter of which would constitute a significant threat to protest rights.

The council also seems to be considering prohibiting the use of some mobility scooters on pavements – a measure which would clearly discriminate against disabled people. It also envisages using the PSPO to fine anyone considered to be engaging in street-based prostitution.

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

Liberty believes several of Enfield’s proposed bans, if implemented, risk breaching residents’ fundamental rights, protected by the Human Rights Act. The Act requires the council not to behave in a way which would disproportionately affect those rights.

Risking discrimination

In today’s letter, Liberty’s Legal Officer Rosie Brighouse advises council leader Doug Taylor that:

•     The proposed ban on “unauthorised sleeping” will essentially criminalise rough sleeping at a time when homelessness is increasing at an alarming rate. It will punish vulnerable members of society by imposing financial penalties they cannot afford.

•     PSPOs are extremely blunt instruments incapable of addressing the complex causes of homelessness or street-based prostitution – which may involve issues of addiction, trafficking, coercive control and poverty. In contrast to the existing criminal law surrounding soliciting, PSPOs can only lead to fines, and are therefore likely to draw vulnerable people into both the criminal justice system and a cycle of debt.

•     The proposed criminalisation of public speaking could breach residents’ right to freedom of speech and their right to protest.

•     A ban on mobility scooters on pavements if they are capable of travelling at more than four miles an hour would discriminate against disabled people who have as much right as any able-bodied pedestrian to travel on the pavement.

•     PSPOs allow councils to ban activities if they believe there is evidence a certain activity is having a detrimental effect on residents’ quality of life in a certain area. Unusually, these proposals would apply to the whole borough of Enfield regardless of whether there is evidence that a particular area requires such measures. It is doubtful a PSPO on such a scale could be lawful.

Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty, said: “Enfield Council is at an early stage in its plans, but is going in a dangerous and legally dubious direction. 

“It is common sense – using your wheelchair on the pavement to stay safe isn’t antisocial behaviour and vulnerable people should be helped off the streets as the cold weather sets in, not slapped with impossible fines and criminal records.

“Enfield deserves better – the council must abandon these plans now.”

Notes to editors:
For more information, or for a copy of the letter sent by Liberty to Enfield 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 in 2014 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. Liberty has so far encouraged Cheshire West and Chester Council, Birmingham City Council and Newport City Council to scrap their plans, while also drawing serious concessions from Oxford City Council.