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Social Justice

Met Police drop court case against woman for begging after legal challenge

A judge told police to “think carefully” before using the “draconian provisions” again, while human rights group Liberty says the Met wasted public funds on criminalising poverty.

The Metropolitan Police have dropped sanctions brought against a woman for begging after intervention from a human rights organisation.

Advocacy group Liberty launched legal action against the Met after a 40-year-old woman was handed a Community Protection Notice (CPN) last year.

The order prevents individuals from engaging in “anti-social behaviour” and can include begging or even going to certain shops without “good reason”. 

Following the Met’s revocation of the CPN, district judge Laws said: “Clearly these are draconian provisions which must be applied with a degree of humanity and proportionality. The respondent will no doubt think carefully before imposing another notice in similar terms, which seem to me rather lurid and wide ranging.”

The Met handed out the CPN in north London in October, imposing restrictions on the woman’s behaviour, including begging. Over the following months, she was forced to defend herself against criminal charges for allegedly breaching the CPN.

Liberty challenged the CPN in court, saying the notice breached its client’s human rights and arguing the police had copy and pasted the terms of the CPN rather than suggest the woman was doing anything to justify the sanction.

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Liberty also said the police failed to give the woman adequate warning before handing out the notice and failed to provide evidence that she had actually breached the order.

Most of the CPN’s conditions, including the one stopping her from begging, were suspended at a hearing in December, pending the final court date. Liberty says the police officer who was in court for that hearing then – on the same day – charged the woman with breaching the 200-year-old Vagrancy Act.

Those charges were dropped after the Crown Prosecution Service found they were not in the public interest and the government has since voted to repeal the Vagrancy Act.

The case was due to go to a court hearing on Monday but instead police dropped all the sanctions issued.

Campaign groups have previously warned that mechanisms like CPNs are used to criminalise poverty, rough sleeping and begging.

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Several organisations, including Liberty, the Museum of Homelessness and Streets Kitchen have now joined together to launch free “bust” cards to help other people avoid penalty or prosecution for living on the streets.

Liberty lawyer Lara ten Caten said: “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.

“Our client’s experience shows how unjust and perverse layers of laws are designed to ensnare people in poverty, and to make it harder and harder for them to avoid being criminalised for situations they can do little to avoid.

“The police should not be wasting public funds and court time by issuing unreasonable CPNs and bringing prosecutions that are not in the public interest.”

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