No more squatting?
21 March 2011
Updated | The housing minister Grant Shapps wrote in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that he wants to make squatting a criminal offence and “shut the door to squatters once and for all”
The changes to the law are being investigated by the Ministry of Justice at the moment (update: read the government’s press release and new guidance here). They will be of interest from a human rights perspective, although aspects of the UK’s current approach to squatters rights were declared compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights by the grand chamber European Court of Human Rights in the 2007 case of JA Pye (Ocford) LTD v. United Kingdom.
What is interesting about the proposed clarifications and changes to the law is the way in which they were reported.
The Daily Telegraph has been running a campaign to “criminalise” squatting, and was given a preview of the changes on Saturday. The Nearly Legal blog, penned by housing law experts, has posted a deconstruction of the articles, which it says amount to “a con-fused botch of the current law, which is both inaccurate and has serious omissions“.
The problem is that homeowners are already to an extent protected by the criminal law. As Nearly Legal remind us:
If one is a displaced residential occupier, or protected intended occupier, then the squatters are committing a criminal offence under section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 and can be arrested. What is more, such an occupier can use force to enter their home and reasonable force to remove the trespassers.
Nearly Legal proceeded to put the Daily Telegraph on the “Legal Naughty Step” (see my previous post on the Daily Mail for an explanation), and conclude
The Telegraph… have either made up this nonsense about people unable to recover possession of their own homes, or, as may be more likely, they have fallen for a bait and switch by the Home Office/MoJ, and been sold a juicy story about protecting homeowners, when the actual proposals are about something else entirely.
Reporting of the law is a mixed bag, and as Nearly Legal have shown (and the Telegraph has form on this blog too), it is not always the tabloids who get it wrong. I will end with a quote, which will hopefully be widely repeated, from Lord Neuberger’s recent and excellent speech on open justice:
Persuasion should be based on truth rather than propaganda. It is one thing to disagree with a judgment, to disagree with a law and to campaign to change the law, but it is another thing to misstate what was said in a judgment, or to misstate the law… Justice to be truly open must join its voice to the chorus; and must ensure that inaccurate or misleading reporting cannot gain traction.
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