East Devon Council to give dispersal powers to council officers

East Devon District Council is planning a PSPO banning aggressive begging, intoxicating substances, and behaviour causing harassment, alarm and distress. See the draft PSPO and consultation. See the Manifesto Club response below:


 

We are particularly concerned about the following elements of this proposed PSPO:

– A ban on ‘aggressive requests for money within a street or public open space':
What is meant by ‘aggressive requests for money’? A truly aggressive request for money isn’t begging – it is mugging. That is theft, and already an established criminal offence. Those who are begging are not mugging or threatening people to hand over their money: they are asking for the charitable support of the general public. They are asking for help. It may be that people feel pressured to give their money; it may be that they find it uncomfortable. But homelessness is uncomfortable; in a sense, it should play upon our conscience that there are people without lodgings or income. Therefore, your prohibition of ‘aggressive requests for money’ is highly unreasonable: it is not targeting an actual public harm. Threatening people is already an offence – this PSPO could only be used to target begging that some people may find uncomfortable or annoying. This would provide a means to target homeless people who are not actually harming anyone or causing a public nuisance. They are merely sitting in a public space, asking for public charity. This measure is unnecessary and cannot be used except in a coercive and punitive way.

– A ban on ‘causing intimidation harassment alarm or distress':
There is already an offence of causing harassment, alarm and distress. The difference is that this must go through a court, and be prosecuted on the evidence, with rights to a defence. In many cases, judges have decided that the evidence submitted by the police did not meet the bar of criminal harm. Therefore, it is very worrying that the council is seeking to duplicate an existing criminal offence – which is already potentially vague – and have it punished with on the spot fines, by council officers. This is usurping due process and people’s right to a trial and defence under the law, and making a mockery out of existing law.

– A ban on ‘the failure to disperse away from a group when asked by an authorised officer':
Police officers already have dispersal powers, which have been widely abused and over-used. It is incomprehensible why the council would wish to use the PSPO power to create a de facto dispersal zone for police and council officers. This is, in fact, illegal under the PSPO powers. The PSPO power enables councils to prohibit certain behaviours or impose certain positive conditions for behaviours. It does not give councils powers to declare dispersal zones and criminalise the non-obedience with dispersal orders. Dispersal powers are a different part of the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act, and are covered by different restrictions and modes of operation (they cannot be enacted by council officers, for example). We strongly suggest that you remove this, which could put you at the risk of legal challenge.