Will evicting rioters be a bear patrol?

18 August 2011 by

In a 1996 episode of The Simpsons, a bear frightens residents of Springfield by strolling down from the mountains. Homer rallies an unruly mob and convinces the town mayor to create a state of the art Bear Patrol, including branded stealth bombers. All is well until Homer receives his pay cheque, which includes an additional $5 “bear tax”. 

Which of the proposed responses to this month’s rioting and looting will be a bear patrol, that is a disproportionate and expensive response prompted by an unruly mob of citizens demanding action?

Alongside the human rights review of every public sector organisation, an early candidate is the plans to create a new discretionary power of possession to enable landlords to take swifter action to evict their most anti-social tenants. The government consultation is open until 7 November; see also this letter from Grant Shapps MP explaining the change .

In summary, the idea is to expand a proposed discretionary ground for possession on grounds of a housing related anti-social behaviour (ASB) offence to include serious anti-social behaviour and criminality beyond the immediate neighbourhood of the property can clearly be taken into account.

The Nearly Legal blog has posted on the issue, pointing out some of the potential problems with the policy. The post is detailed and well reasoned. A few highlights:

The purpose of Ground 2/Ground 14 was intended to be protective. The justification being that other tenants in the area of the property should be able to be protected from ASB related to the tenant’s occupation of the property… It was not intended to be a punitive clause – a further punishment for ASB or criminal behaviour in the area – but that is now how it is being portrayed.

One significant argument against such a policy is that it is potentially discriminatory against people who cannot afford housing. As Nearly Legal put it:

Why should those in council or other social housing tenancies be subject to this further punishment for their actions, or more worryingly the actions of their household or visitors, where those in the private rented sector or owner-occupiers are not subject to the same sanction?

And the difference in justification between the original pre-riots proposal and what it has become is stark. There is no longer any direct connection between the tenancy of the property and the ASB or criminal behaviour. When the behaviour was linked to the locality, eviction could be justified in terms of protecting the other tenants. But it is now effectively a further punishment for criminal behaviour.

If brought into law, this policy will almost certainly be challenged on human rights grounds. Following the path breaking 2010 Supreme Court decision in Manchester City Council v Pinnock, courts now have the power to assess the proportionality of a decision to possess a person’s home under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In such a challenge, the “nexus” between the sanction and the offending behaviour will be important in assessing the proportionality of the policy.

Nearly Legal suggest a number of other questions as to “whether or not one agrees that making people homeless, with all the consequent costs, is a good, effective or practical response to the kinds of criminal acts described“, and concludes that this is a “knee jerk and simple-minded amendment“.

Perhaps this policy will end up being more successful than predicted. But at present it sounds like it may be a bear patrol. Returning to The Simpsons, when Homer points out to his daughter Lisa that there have been no bear attacks since the patrols begun, she responds “That’s specious reasoning dad“. He takes this as a compliment. And who does the mayor blame when the residents mob returns demanding a reduction in the bear tax? Illegal immigrants. In this case, reality may imitate fiction.

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  1. […] Will evicting rioters be a bear patrol? – Excellent post-riot UK reference usage: In a 1996 episode of The Simpsons, a bear frightens residents of Springfield by strolling down from the mountains. Homer rallies an unruly mob and convinces the town mayor to create a state of the art Bear Patrol, including branded stealth bombers. All is well until Homer receives his pay cheque, which includes an additional $5 “bear tax”. […]

  2. John Dowdle says:

    Thinking about the remarks made by Mike Farrell above leads me to wonder if the proposed strategy of evicting families from their social housing may not contravene the Geneva Convention provisions against collective punishment.
    This is fairly standard practice where Israel is concerned. Indeed, they take it even further to the point where they actually demolish entire family homes in the West Bank part of Palestine, even though they have no real legitimate basis for doing so. In their case, they do it because they can. They offend all sense of fairness by doing this, though they took over the practice from the previous British administration (prior to 1948).
    However, I cannot help wondering if there is not some sort of legal beagle who could provide a considered opinion on whether or not the proposed collective punishment practice of evicting entire families due to the possible wrongdoing of one member of the family does not constitute a clear breach of the Geneva Convention within the UK?
    Can anyone provide a reasoned opinion on this point?

    1. mike farrell says:

      I dont think the Geneva conventions apply. I am no expert, but my understanding is that the conventions apply to signatory states, the conduct of their military and associated treatment of other combatants / civilians / prisoners of war / victims etc in war time situations; not in situations of domestic political rhetoric / policy however politically sociopathic.

  3. mike farrell says:

    The list of things that david cameron doesnt like continues to grow, and is a list which shows that he harbours a very unhealthy distain for the so called lower classes of the UK.

    As well as harping on about Human Rights, supposed broken Britain (which always seems to revolve around single parents) council tenancies is another issue that he has a particular dislike of and has already signalled that he would like long term tenancies to be abolished. This is just another step along the way; identify council tenants as trouble makers, and strengthen the case against council housing as a whole.

    I have said it before however, that a man who lives in a state owned home at the expense of the state (essentially the countries most famous council house!), who has never had to struggle for anything in his life in terms of education, employment, welfare or opportunities should not be attacking those who actually pay towards the house they stay in, whether it is subsidised or not, and who may have to struggle each day just to put bread on the table, never to know the oppulance and luxury that a man like David Cameron is lucky to enjoy. Quite frankly I would be much happier paying tax knowing that a proportion of it goes towards assisting those who cannot afford outrageous housing prices than the fact that a large part of it has gone on war and weapons over the last decade.

    Lastly It is an absolute outrage that anyone could be evicted from a home for any act criminal or otherwise committed by another who may not even be the actual tenant, but perhaps a child of, and whose act may or may not have had any impact on the actual house rented or its surroundings. Making persons homeless does not and can not in my book accord with anything even resembling justice, and can only lead to further and more aggravated social problems. This entire farce is nothing more than a Prime Minister and Government attempting to take charge of the situation with the end game being nothing more than votes.


    1. Well said, sir and couldn’t agree more. For just over a year Cameron has done well to hide his true colours but the riots have broken the camel’s back. As you point out, the riots are not the only thing that he complains about and there has been a clear succession of events, usually involving the “unelected” British or ECtHR judges that have revealed his true authoritarian/Tory instincts.

      Unfortunately in a country where the most read newspapers include The Sun, Daily Fail and Express, it is virtually impossible to win the liberal argument without being dismissed as too soft while passions run high.

  4. John Dowdle says:

    There are a number of points above which are just plain wrong. The properties which are occupied by council tenants are not owned by the tenants. They are allowed to reside there by the council, based upon a rental agreement which will include a good behaviour clause, which need not be restricted to good behaviour locally. If the tenant or a member of the tenant’s family breaches the good behaviour clause then the council is legally permitted to ask them to vacate the property; failing which, they can then apply to the courts for an order to have them evicted.
    In the event of voluntarily or involuntarily quitting the property. the local authority can assess the former tenant as having made themselves intentionally homeless, which removes the obligation on the local authority to provide housing to the former tenant. It would then be up to the tenant to obtain a tenancy on whatever grounds a private landlord will wish to apply.

    1. mike farrell says:

      I dont think there is any suggestion that tenants actually own properties, they occupy under the terms of a lease / tenancy agreement as you say.
      I personally have to question whether it is really the place of a council to further punish persons for allegedly engaging in criminal conduct for which a defendant has been or will be properly processed through the criminal courts, as lets face it, only those who have been actually convicted could really be subjected to such eviction claims, and god help any councils who evict where a defendant is found not to be guilty.
      While legally a council may have authority to evict a tenant due to that tenant engaging in anti social behaviour, it seems a bit of a stretch to me to impose that liability on a tenant because of the behaviour of the tenants relative(s). That to me is a council engaging within the realms of criminal arbitration and sanctions, something I feel particularly uncomfortable with as I dont through hard experience have much respect or confidence in local authorities to carry out any of their powers with true impartiality.
      As for the tenant then obtaining a tenancy elsewhere beyond the local authority, that may be harder than it sounds; many people are in local authority housing because they simply cannot afford private rent or to buy.

  5. Tim says:

    David Cameron is nothing but a Tea-partying twit beamed down from the planet Zog.

    1. Douglas says:

      Residents of Zog will be most offended at this slur on their locality.

  6. Nearly Legal says:

    Just to be nit picky, the proposed expanded ground (with ‘locality’ removed) is not to be mandatory but discretionary. Hence my wittering on about the impossible exercise of the reasonable test in such cases.

    The mandatory ground is still, more or less, related to offences in the locality.

    Many thanks for the quotes and linkage.

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      Thanks! Not nit pick at all. Have amended. Thanks for your excellent post, looking forward to part II…

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