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Legal threat forces Council to delay begging vote

first_imgA national civil rights organisation, Liberty, has threatened legal action against Oxford City Council’s proposed restrictions on busking and begging in the centre of Oxford.Oxford City Council were to vote last Thursday evening on a new Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to tackle non-aggressive begging and non-compliant busking. However, the vote was postponed after concerns over potential legal action by Liberty.If the new PSPO had been approved, it would have allowed police and council staff to serve fixed penalty notices, with those failing to pay facing court action and prison.Currently, Oxford City Centre is covered by a PSPO under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. It is a breach of the PSPO to busk not in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Busking and Street Entertainment in Oxford, which is a list of ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’.The ‘Don’ts’ currently include not selling merchandise, not busking “in a way that is repetitive, intrusive or causes a nuisance”, and not busking for more than one hour at a time.However, the civil rights group Liberty delivered a letter addressed to the City Council last Thursday morning, claiming that the new PSPO was unlawful and would “criminalise homeless people and buskers”.After receiving the letter, the Council dropped discussion of the proposed PSPO from the City Executive Board meeting agenda.Freya Turner, Chair of the OUSU-led ‘On Your Doorstep’ campaign, explained to Cherwell, “We at On Your Doorstep applauded the Council’s concession on rough sleeping in the PSPO, and hoped that it might be an indication of their willingness to listen to a range of voices when seeking the proper approach to supposed ‘anti-social’ behaviour. “However, their plans to ban and criminalise persistent begging and non-compliant busking are badly thought through and, due to the intersections between busking, begging and homelessness, will likely have a detrimental impact on a highly vulnerable group. As we face the onslaught of austerity and further welfare cuts in the next five years, it will become all the more important for local campaigns to stand up for a compassionate treatment of vulnerable people. This is why we cannot support the criminalisation of ‘persistent begging’.”When the PSPO was being drafted, a Member Reference Group was set up to consider the need for and potential content of a PSPO for the city centre area. This group comprised ward councillors, the Board Member for Crime and Community Response and a Scrutiny Committee member. The Member Reference Group then presented a list of anti-social behaviours, as drafted by the City Council, to the public for consultation on an online voting system called eConsult.In the poll, 54 per cent of respondents voted against ‘persistent begging’ being included on the list of behaviours to be criminalised, and 53 per cent voted in opposition to the inclusion of ‘Busking or Street Entertainment’. Only 13 per cent of respondents were in favour of criminalising busking; the remaining 36 per cent of voters were ambivalent.Prior to the threats of legal action made, the City Council explained their decision to propose the new PSPO in a report given to the City Executive Board, stating, “The inclusion of persistent begging in the Order will provide other staff to regulate this behaviour and will provide an updated legal remedy, including the use of fixed penalty notices.“This is likely to prove a more cost effective and proportionate approach to controlling this activity. Linking the Code of Conduct to the PSPO provides a means of enforcement of the Code for flagrant breaches which do occur infrequently, causing considerable nuisance to people in the street and occupiers of nearby premises”.In response to the ‘On Your Doorstep’ campaign, the City Council stated, “We have an excellent track record of supporting homeless people and helping them find a bed or a home. Oxford City Council spends over £1 million on support for homelessness. It is wrong to suggest the proposed PSPO would change any of that support. It is also untrue that the proposed Order would ‘criminalise’ rough sleeping. The proposed City centre PSPO is aimed at tackling persistent types of anti-social behaviour which can spoil the experience of using the city centre for residents, businesses and visitors.”A protest against the planned PSPO took place on Thursday on Cornmarket Street. Ruthi Brandt, Green Party Councillor for Carfax Ward, and attendee at the protest, told Cherwell during the demonstration “It’s [the protest] highlighting the problems with the PSPO that’s been suggested for the city centre in Oxford. There are lots of issues with it.“It would be possible to fine someone £100 for begging-as a beggar, that’s ridiculous, and if you don’t pay the fine then you go through the court system. That could get them up to £1000 in fines, so we’re here to protest that, and to call on the City Executive Board not to pass that.”last_img read more