UK: Plans to criminalise squatting in residential buildings

Amendments to the Legal Aid Bill announced by Kenneth Clarke (Minister of “Justice”) would make it a criminal offence to squat in residential buildings.

The response to the consultation on squatting came out today and of the 2,200 respondents, more than 2,100 were in favour of NOT criminalising squatting. Showing yet again that the 1% do not give a shit about the 99% (or, ok in this case, to use the real figures, it’s the 4% versus 96%), the Government is simply going to push through the law anyway.

This is the gist of the proposal (from page 36 of the consultation response):

“The new offence will be committed where a person is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser, knows or ought to know that he or she is a trespasser and is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.”

The proposal has been added to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is a rubbish bit of legislation planning to take away the previously automatic right of those who cannot afford it to have their legal representation paid for. This short-sighted Conservative plan to save money by fucking over those people who cannot afford lawyers will most likely work out more expensive for everyone in the long term.

Sneaking in an amendment is a blatant attempt to push through the criminalisation of squatting, despite there being no consensus on whether this would actually be a good idea. Certainly homelessness charities are against it and lawyers think it is unworkable. In the response itself, High Court Enforcement Officers, the Criminal Bar Association, the Law Society, the Magistrates’ Association, the University and College Union and the National Union of Students all expressed concerns about criminalisation.

But it’s clear the way things are headed: the day BEFORE the consultation had even ended, Mad Mike Weatherley recorded that Clarke has promised to criminalise squatting in a keynote speech!!

In recent days there have been lots of positive squatting news such as the tour by Dutch squatters, the Okasional Cafe in Manchester, the Plebs’ College in Oxford, Offmarket in London and new squats in Brighton.

We live in interesting times. You can view the consultation response as pdf here. This is the current status of the legal aid bill.