Housing

Rough sleepers are being offered legal advice to protect against 'misused' police powers

Human rights lawyers Liberty have handed out 4,000 cards across England to advise rough sleepers on how to protect against misuse of policing powers.

rough sleepers legal advice

The criminalisation of rough sleeping has been in the headlines recently following the news that the Vagrancy Act has been scrapped. Image: degrés 360 / Flickr

A human rights organisation has handed out 4,000 cards to rough sleepers in England offering legal advice to protect them from “misused” Community Protection Notices (CPN).

CPNs are powers designed to protect against persistent, unreasonable anti-social behaviour but there is no restriction to the conduct that can lead to a notice being issued.

This leaves people who are experiencing street homelessness at risk of criminalisation, according to Liberty. The human rights lawyers have now distributed the cards to advise rough sleepers of their rights so they can challenge CPNs.

Liberty said it’s the first time cards have been issued to help people experiencing homelessness to protect themselves against police misuse of power.

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

rough sleepers legal advice
Liberty’s bust cards give rough sleepers advice on how to challenge Community Protection Notices. Image: Liberty

“Like the Vagrancy Act and Public Space Protection Orders, CPNs are part of a senseless web of laws that trap people in poverty and criminalisation. They are frequently misused and we hope these cards will help people to know their rights when facing legal threats or nothing but the situation they find themselves in.” 

The Westminster government has pledged to axe the Vagrancy Act – the almost 200-year-old law dating back to the Napoleonic Wars which made rough sleeping and begging a crime – in England and Wales as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

rough sleepers legal advice
In total, 4,000 of the cards have been distributed on the streets in England. Image: Liberty

Rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes confirmed in a recent answer to a parliamentary question that the amendment to scrap the act has been tabled in lieu and the act will be phased out once the “appropriate replacement legislation in place”.

Hughes said: “We must balance our role in providing essential support for the vulnerable with ensuring that we do not weaken the ability of the police to protect communities.”

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While the long-awaited reform promises to change the landscape for enforcement on the streets, Liberty has warned CPNs could be brought into more widespread use.

The cards set out what police or council officers must do to issue a valid CPN and how to contact Liberty and challenge a CPN that may have been issued incorrectly.

Grassroots homelessness group Streets Kitchen has been handing out cards across London in the last week.

A spokesperson for the group said: “We constantly witness and receive far too many reports of overzealous policing targeting those experiencing homelessness by using so-called ‘anti-social’ behaviour legislation to move people on and away from where they may be getting some simple shelter.

“We have found the CPN bust cards are a vital tool to show some humanity and solidarity while sharing legal knowledge and empower all those experiencing homelessness to stand up against hostility and life-threatening criminalisation.”

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