Housing

Police forced to scrap order that banned a homeless man from carrying a cup

Human rights lawyers Liberty successfully challenged a Community Protect Notice that also banned the homeless man from London's streets.

homeless tent

Community Protection Notices can be issued by police or local authorities to prevent anti-social behaviour but human rights lawyers Liberty argue they are used to criminalise poverty. Image: Image: Mikel Parera / Unsplash

Police sanctions banning a homeless man in London from carrying a cup have been dropped after human rights lawyers took legal action against the “anti-begging” order.

The Met Police withdrew a Community Protection Notice (CPN) against the 46-year-old, who had been living in a tent on Tottenham Court Road, after lawyers from Liberty challenged the order.

The legal notice had 11 conditions, which also included banning the man from loitering on any pavement or public street in London without a pre-arranged appointment and threatening a £2,500 fine for pitching a tent in the borough of Camden.

Lawyers argued that the CPN’s conditions were unlawful and infringed the man’s human rights. The Met said it withdrew the CPN in March – a month before it was due to expire.

“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 criminalise people who need help,” said Liberty lawyer Lara ten Caten.

“Police powers are being used far too broadly, and in this case illegitimately, to criminalise people for situations they can do little to avoid.

“We are pleased that the Met Police have dropped this sanction, and hope that this case sends a crucial message to councils and police that they must stop criminalising poverty and provide people living on the streets with any support they need to lead dignified lives.”

The man was handed the CPN by a Metropolitan Police Officer in October. The notices can be handed out by police and council officers to prohibit individuals from engaging in certain behaviour but the lawyers argue that they are often used to criminalise poverty and people find themselves homeless.

The man, who is not a native English speaker, was handed a translated copy of the conditions that were placed upon him. But lawyers argued that he did not receive a translated copy of the part of the CPN that outlined his right to appeal and the time frame for exercising it, breaching parts of the Anti-social, Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

He continued to sleep rough in his tent in Camden, an offence that carried a maximum fine of £2,500, Liberty said.

The lawyers challenged the notice on the grounds that many of the conditions were unlawful and went against his basic human rights. The police dropped the CPN before it went to a hearing. 

A Met spokesperson told The Big Issue the CPN, which lasted for six months and was due to expire on April 11, banned the man from activities such as “begging and loitering around the Kentish Town area with signage and drug paraphernalia”.

The CPN was issued after witnesses indicated to police that the person subject to the CPN would “intimidate customers of a café and supermarket, follow them into the store and on occasion become abusive, steal or smoke drugs on their premises”. 

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The spokesperson added: “The CPN was subject to a legal challenge and, due to the limited time remaining, it was decided that it was not in the public interest to defend it and the CPN withdrawn on 17 March 2022.”

Following the intervention, the man is now in temporary accommodation and has found work, Liberty said.

Liberty has been opposing CPNs in recent years and 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.

A spokesperson from Streets Kitchen said: “This successful result of Liberty’s challenge once again shows that sharing knowledge, compassion and standing together in solidarity can generate much needed positive change. Blatant attempts to criminalise those with nothing is wrong, homelessness can never be a crime, the fact that it exists should be.”

The way people experiencing homelessness on the streets are being dealt with by the law is set to change in the coming months after the Westminster government confirmed they would scrap the Vagrancy Act that has criminalised rough sleeping for almost 200 years.

A consultation on what should replace the act closes this week but has proven controversial among homelessness charities which argue that police already have enough powers to tackle anti-social behaviour on the streets without criminalising someone for being homeless.

Ten Caten added: “The government has committed to scrapping the Vagrancy Act. The police are, however, still criminalising poverty by issuing CPNs such as this one – which stopped our client from even walking down certain streets, or from possessing a cup –  which amounts to a blanket ban on begging.”

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