No more squatting?

21 March 2011 by

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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  1. chee ah wei says:

    maybe the government should address the reasons in the first place as to why people squat?! why buildings are empty and people go homeless, why people want a seperate cluture and why they shouldn’t be entitled to that??

    surely government can’t just change a law without taking into account all information surounding an issue?

    is this all just extended madness of tryanny of power and further de-humanizing..just because they’ve lost their will to be humans and validate other people as human beings, it seems to me, that they are denying anyone else the right too with all the changes that are going on.

    it seems to me that the law system is making decisions and changing rules left right and centre without actually adhering to the law system that surely has rules as to follow with changing laws…or is it ok for them to just make a new law because they ‘feel’ like it?? what!!!

    are there people out there exploring how to maintain the laws that protect squatters? who’s fighting this corner in a legal fashion??

  2. Stephen says:

    By all means make squatting illegal. But, to compensate, I believe the state should discharge a positive obligation to ensure that all of its citizens have an affordable home to live in. There should be no reason for citizens to squat or to otherwise be homeless.

  3. Law Think says:

    I have always argued that squatting is a justified limitation on property right. The problem is the few squatters that make the headlines have done so for a reason – either living in multi-million pound houses, having a bad attitude, or (in the case of the Mail) because they are asylum seekers.

    Squatting is a wide practice. 20 000 in the UK, and 80 000 empty homes. I hope Grant Shapps has plans and money to deal with the people made homeless by making squatting illegal.

    1. Law Think says:

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