The council is considering using a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to introduce 10 separate criminal offences. PSPOs are disturbingly broad powers that let local authorities ban a huge range of activities.
The authority has proposed a ban on people “placing themselves in a position to beg or solicit money” at any time – effectively criminalising poverty when homelessness in England is increasing at an alarming rate.
The council also hopes to place a curfew on under-18s between 11pm and 6am – a measure usually reserved for a national emergency – and criminalise the unauthorised distribution of printed materials, which could violate residents’ freedom of expression and cause significant harm to local businesses.
A further ban on “foul and abusive language” has already been recorded widely in the press – and ridiculed across the globe.
If introduced, the PSPO would give police and council officers the power to issue on-the-spot penalties of up to £100. If unable to pay, those in breach could face prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.
Liberty believes several of Rochdale’s proposed bans, if implemented, risk breaching residents’ fundamental rights, protected by the Human Rights Act. The Act requires the council not to behave in a way which would disproportionately affect residents’ rights.
The council does not intend to consult the public on the plans.
Discriminatory and unworkableIn today’s letter, Liberty’s Legal Officer Lara ten Caten advises Cllr Mark Widdup that:
- The proposed ban on begging will punish vulnerable members of society by imposing financial penalties they cannot afford – cruelly forcing them to pay a fine using what little money they might have saved from the charity of others.
- PSPOs are extremely blunt instruments incapable of addressing complex social problems or sensitively dealing with targeted groups. PSPOs can only lead to fines, and are therefore likely to draw vulnerable people into both the criminal justice system and a cycle of debt.
- The proposed curfew on under-18s is disproportionate, discriminates against young people and is practically unworkable.
- A ban on the unauthorised distribution of leaflets would constitute an unjustified interference with the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to impart and receive information. Such a ban would curtail the rights of citizens to campaign on political or social issues, and could also harm local businesses which rely on leaflets for promotional purposes.
- The proposed swearing ban is unworkable and represents a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression.
“This PSPO would make criminals of the homeless and vulnerable, the young, the politically-engaged and businessmen and women alike.
“Criminalising those most in need is no answer to rising homelessness, while the swearing ban is so vague no one could possibly know whether they risk breaking the law or not.
“Rochdale deserves better. For the good of its residents, the council must abandon these plans now.”