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Government sued for denying legal aid to homeless

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Human rights lawyers say there should be public funding to challenge rough sleeping crackdowns

legal aid barristers homeless

A human rights campaign group is taking the government to court to try to get legal aid for homeless people.

Liberty, which is led by former Doughty Street barrister Martha Spurrier, says that the Legal Aid Agency should fund legal challenges to council orders that target rough sleepers.

Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) allow councils to order people to stop any “activities [that] have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”. PSPOs are civil orders, but breaching one is a criminal offence. They are one of several different powers that replaced ASBOs, the controversial Anti-Social Behaviour Orders scrapped in 2015.

Council bosses argue that measures like PSPOs don’t target rough sleeping, but rather anti-social behaviour (such as street drinking and aggressive begging) often linked to homelessness. Campaigners say that, in practice, the orders are criminalising rough sleeping and unfairly targeting vulnerable people. Stories about beggars been jailed for breaching civil orders have led to accusations that it is increasingly a crime to be poor in Britain. The homelessness charity Crisis says that legal actions against rough sleepers “should be used as a last resort”.

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The Legal Aid Agency has refused to shell out for challenges to PSPOs, with Liberty saying they were told that such cases “could be financed by crowdfunding instead”. Solicitor Lara ten Caten said that “the Legal Aid Agency’s argument that people should rely on donations from the public to enforce their basic rights against local councils is wholly unreasonable.”

That said, Legal Cheek understands that the person represented by Liberty in the case is not actually homeless herself, but a “concerned local” who wants to challenge her council’s clampdown. But Liberty says that the case is about making legal aid available for cases against PSPOs, whether the person applying for it is directly affected or not.

The group has instructed Jamie Burton and Angela Patrick of Doughty Street to argue that “locals are directly affected by any measures which put them at risk of criminalisation, that the relevant legislation does permit the Agency to fund PSPO cases, and that the ability to challenge PSPOs is of great public importance.”

The Legal Aid Agency confirmed that challenges to PSPOs do not currently qualify for legal aid unless the applicant can get exceptional case funding.

Even less subtle legal powers are available to the authorities. Begging has been a criminal offence for centuries under the Vagrancy Act 1824. In 2016, over 2,000 people were prosecuted under section 3 of the Act, which says that “every person wandering abroad, or placing himself or herself in any public place, street, highway, court, or passage, to beg or gather alms, or causing or procuring or encouraging any child or children so to do; shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person.”

Another 600 people were prosecuted under section 4, which targets rough sleeping (“every person wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon… shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond”).

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11 Comments

Anonymous

OK I have a money making scheme…..So we find a campsite somewhere posh – lake district/Southwold and privately prosecute all of those rogues and vagabonds under S4. No defence that I can see. We seek costs and lo and behold criminal law pays once again…

Any flaws?

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Headline:

“Lawyers sue government to pay them to represent homeless people who breach orders which are strict liability and have no defence.”

Basically to turn up and say how unfair it all is but make no difference to the outcome or situations of the poor sods.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

“…they were told that such cases “could be financed by crowdfunding instead”.”

If true, that is actually a disgusting thing to say. Councils are already making (in the words of Alex) the fattest of wedges through selective property licensing (against landlords who turn a profit) and parking arrangements (against individuals with the money to run a car); but that’s not enough?

And now they go ahead and squeeze the very poorest individuals, making their mere existence within a certain latitude and longitude illegal. By declaring a PSPO upon someone, you’re not solving the problem of homelessness but are instead just exporting it to another location.

But yeah, of course – that homeless individual can jump right onto a crowdfunding website and then manage a campaign and then withdraw and or use all that money donated to them via that bank account which they more than likely do not have. Nice one.

(7)(3)

Anonymous

Fining the homeless assumes they can actually pay the fines

(1)(0)

Anonymous

This is so sad. Incredibly heartbreaking to see just how many more homeless men and women are now on the streets of major UK cities, as compared to 5-10 years ago.

(4)(1)

NPC2863940101

We need more immigration so that these people will have pensions. Suggesting that this puts pressure on housing stock is uneducated and borderline racist.

(2)(5)

Anonymous

The JR of any public authority that has taken action that affects the public at large simply can’t be funded by Legal Aid any more because the LAA automatically refuses funding for public interest JR applications on the grounds that the action could be crowdfunded.

My firm didn’t bid to renew our Public Law LAA contract because we found that we were rarely granted Legal Aid funding because the LAA views charitable donations from the public a viable way of funding expensive and complex litigation.

Added to the fact that Legal Aid rates are rock bottom, it just wasn’t worth the wasted effort doing the work involved in applying for funding when it was rarely granted.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

So crowdfunding – the great funding work-around, beloved of social justice crusaders – is actually helping to destroy government provision?

Ha.

(1)(0)

The Famous Eccles circa. 1957

Everyone’s got to be somewhere!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

“I deem you a rogue and a vagabond”
“The Defendant is hereby deemed a rogue and a vagabond”
Don’t see that in many orders or judgments! Perhaps time for a legislative overhaul?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Brothers! Sisters!

We need socialism to pay for legal aid!

Tax wealthy city lawyers and increase tax on city firms!

Jez will also express solidarity with Palestinians and release your student debts!

VOTE CORBYN, FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW!

(1)(4)

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