Kenneth Clarke has taken an amazing couple of weeks reading all of the 2,217 responses to the “consultation” on criminalising squatting, and ignoring all but those he agrees with. He has also ignored direct responses from homelessness charities which proved that the vulnerable would be the most adversely affected and punished.
He has now tagged his ideas onto a Bill [the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act – yeah very relevant] that has already gone through pretty much all of the parliamentary process and is trying to create a new criminal offence without parliament having a proper opportunity to discuss it.
The draft law would make it a criminal offence to trespass in a residential building in order to live in it. [full details below]
It is not clear how this will operate in practice – who says you’re a trespasser and what evidence they might need. This will need defining and even some of the Lords will be looking for some kind of protection. Of course we know that landlords will accuse tenants they no longer want of being trespassers and some police will take their word, whatever the law says they’re supposed to do to check.
This is clearly a response to articles in some of the media, rather than the reality known by the homeless charities and other people in the real world. There are thousands of empty residential properties and most of them will remain empty for many years to come. There are increasing numbers of homeless people, to be added to by those losing their jobs, pensions etc. under this government’s attack on the poor.
While we would obviously love MPs and Lords to stand up to this undemocratic crap, people are also having to think rapidly of amendments that are more likely to grab MPs’ interest. For example it has been suggested that the proposed law be amended to cover only properties left empty for less than 6 months. ASS does not support such an idea, but we wouldn’t get upset if it were picked up on. If anyone can think of similar amendments contact us and more importantly SQUASH.
Whatever happens with this attempted legislation, it will still take some time to get turned into some kind of practical legal entity. The law has one more reading in the “Commons” and then 3 in the Lords. This will probably leave a need for some kind of “statutory instrument” actually defining the practicalities. We have time for campaigning and for planning how to deal with any legal changes. We have time to organise ourselves so that we can continue to requisitioning empty property whatever the law says.
DON’T PANIC, CARRY ON SQUATTING
The draft law
(1) A person commits an offence if—
(a) the person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser,
(b) the person knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser, and
(c) the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.
(2) The offence is not committed by a person holding over after the end of a lease or licence (even if the person leaves and re-enters the building).
(3) For the purposes of this section—
(a) “building” includes any structure or part of a structure (including a
temporary or moveable structure), and
(b) a building is “residential” if it is designed or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live.
(4) For the purposes of this section the fact that a person derives title from a trespasser, or has the permission of a trespasser, does not prevent the person from being a trespasser.
(5) A person convicted of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (or both).
(6) In relation to an offence committed before the commencement of section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the reference in subsection (5) to 51 weeks is to be read as a reference to 6 months.
(7) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a) it is irrelevant whether the person entered the building as a trespasser before or after the commencement of this section.