Will evicting rioters be a bear patrol?
18 August 2011
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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Your taxes are high because of illegal immigrants.