High court enforcement officer: 'don't criminalise squatting'
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Wed Jul 6 22:27:17 BST 2011
Criminalising squatting will merely make the problem worse
Today's police are neither trained nor equipped
to deal with evictions. We need a simpler, not tougher, system
Claire Sandbrook - guardian.co.uk, Monday 4 July 2011 22.29 BST
Your report on the government's intention to
consult on proposals to criminalise squatting in
England and Wales focused largely on the views of
housing charities (Making squatting criminal will
hit homeless, charities warn, 25 June). Such a
move risks "dragging some of the country's most
vulnerable people through the justice system".
Katharine Sacks-Jones of the charity Crisis said
many are squatting "because they simply don't have another choice".
As a high court enforcement officer, I have many
years of first-hand experience in dealing with
squatters, protesters and other forms of
trespasser. I do not support the act of trespass
in any form but neither do I support the criminalisation of squatting.
I agree with Sacks-Jones that criminal
punishments handed out against squatters would be
"counterproductive" and are "not going to address
the underlying problems that these people face";
they would be no deterrent to hardcore squatters
and activists, while simultaneously imposing
greater burdens on the truly vulnerable.
Furthermore, the actions necessary to remove the
squatters would take up an inordinate amount of
ever-diminishing police resources and impose
further demands on a criminal courts system
already stretched to breaking point
particularly if, as reported in the article, "the
government's estimate of 20,000 squatters in the
UK is likely to be a significant underestimate".
The police are currently neither trained nor
equipped to deal with many of the situations they
will face when evicting highly organised squatters.
The fact that criminalisation puts squatters'
liberty at risk could make them eligible for
criminal legal aid (after being stripped of their
right to civil legal aid under the government's
recent announcement). This confusion would place
further burdens on the shrinking legal aid budget.
The article rightly states that many of the
actions used by the government to justify
changing their approach are already criminal acts
under existing legislation. Instead of
criminalising squatting, civil court processes
for obtaining and enforcing eviction orders
should be made far simpler and quicker: property
owners who have had their premises squatted in
will know how many weeks it can take to get the
necessary orders through the courts, and then
waiting for those orders to be enforced.
The public would be better served by having a
process that enables the necessary orders to be
obtained and swiftly passed on to high court
enforcement officers, thereby ensuring that the
squatters are evicted lawfully and effectively by
people skilled in dealing with such situations.
These officers already have considerable powers
and the police are under a legal duty to assist
them so that any possible public order issues could be dealt with.
Yes, it is time to get tough on squatters. But
making it illegal is not the answer, and will
just make things worse. Thinking smarter can
sometimes have a far more beneficial effect than just thinking tougher.
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