Public Ignorance of the EU and Human Rights

Britain's PM Cameron addresses a news conference after an EU heads of state summit in Brussels

Prime Minister, David Cameron (Image: The Commentator)

The future of Britain’s role in the European Union has made some unsettling headline news over the past few months, with Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge of an in/out referendum on EU membership – but, only if the Conservative Party wins the 2015 General Election.

The speech came following a ComRes survey that revealed the anti-EU, UK Independence Party (Ukip) achieved its highest-ever rating at the expense of the Conservative Party. This helped Labour to extend its lead, placing Labour at 41 per cent, and the Tories at 31 per cent. If repeated at a general election, such figures would give Labour an overall majority of 110, with the Tories losing 99 seats, and the 36 out of 57 Lib Dem MPs defeated.

Interestingly, in the wake of the Conservative Party’s drubbing in the Eastleigh by-election, after being out-beaten by the UK Independence party, Senior Tory cabinet ministers have this week raised the prospect of pulling Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights – again mentioning, only if the party obtains an overall majority in the 2015 General Election. Meanwhile, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says that the Conservatives will repeal the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the ECHR in domestic law. Theresa May, the home secretary, has reportedly been working on the plans for the Tories’ next manifesto.

The recent news is all the more depressing when one considers that the Opinium/Observer survey found that 56% of Britons would probably, or definitely, vote for the UK to leave the EU if they were offered the choice in a referendum.

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Anti-EU protesters outside the Houses of Parliament, London (Image reproduced from The Guardian)

It is, therefore, clear that such calls by the Tories are merely gesture politics, in an attempt to regain popularity. It is also clear that because the Tories have lost a by-election, they now feel the need to play to the audience. It does not make any sense for Britain to leave the EU, or for the Human Rights Act to be repealed, nor for the UK withdraw from Strasbourg. However, if a referendum really is held, it places Britain in a very dangerous position, given the position that so many Britons feel such distain towards the EU. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, is on a similar wavelength of thought to myself. Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Miliband stated:

“I think it is incredibly dangerous what David Cameron is doing. He is essentially sleepwalking us towards the exit door from the EU.”

“The last thing we should do is start to say for some date five, six, seven years hence, let’s decide now to have an in/out referendum. As Michael Heseltine said very well yesterday, that means you are having a referendum on a negotiation that has not yet begun, with a timescale that is uncertain and an outcome that is unknown. That is an incredible gamble. We know why this is happening. He is worried about the threat from Ukip and he is worried about what is happening in his own party. It is the wrong thing to do.”

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Ed Miliband, Leader of The Labour Party (Image: The Telegraph)

There is perhaps a strong possibility that the EU debate is merely a sideshow, distracting from the real problems of the Eurozone, the UK economy and manufacturing – especially when there are fears of the UK facing a triple dip recession, not to mention losing its prestigious AAA rating.

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(Image: mydavidcameron.com)

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“Trust in me…” (Image: Top News)

Another depressing issue, is the fact so many British people seem to confuse the European Union with the European Convention of Human Rights, and the Human Rights Act with the European Convention. It is now over twelve years since the Act took effect, but uninformed and misleading statements are still made about the EU, and human rights law, by those who should know better, and circulated by those who could not care less.

When debating topics based on the European Union, some of the comments I receive on Twitter never fail to amaze me with regards general level of misunderstanding and ignorance as to what the functions of the EU actually are.

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Contrary to what the lady in the above tweet (and many others) seem to believe, leaving the European Union will not stop the courts preventing the removal of foreign criminals, and neither will it do anything to improve our national security, which I will explain.

In one sense, one cannot blame peoples’ ignorance when they believe they are “informed”, after reading absurdly incorrect news articles that are all too regularly sensationalised in a number of tabloid newspapers. A few weeks ago, I came across this shining example of Eurosceptical ignorance on Twitter, when someone posted a link to this article published in ‘The Sun’: Youngsters at risk after EU ruling. According to yet another scare-mongering tale, The Sun claims that theEU could let fiends like him prey on your children.”

To set the record straight, the story concocted in the mentioned Sun article, came from a judgement that was actually given by the Court of Appeal – an English and Welsh court, based in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. It is not an EU court, and the EU had absolutely nothing to do with this particular judgment which was regarding Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks and the incorporated rights of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgement given by the Court of Appeal can be found here, and anyone who takes the time to read it will observe how the judgement is in no way related to the story in The Sun.

The Mail on Sunday has also provided excellent evidence of misinformation with their story purporting, “New outrage as Taliban suspect told he can stay”, which begins “In a new human rights case to cause anger”. The case is not even about a human rights at all, but is actually about the EU Refugee Qualification Directive. The case report can be found here. Please feel free to read it and see if it bares any resemblance to the story. Incidentally, if we were to expunge all traces of the European Convention on Human Rights from our law, that Directive would still apply.

However, for those without a legal or political background, stories such as that published in The Sun and the Mail on Sunday, can seriously misinform, and unnecessarily scare a significant number of people. It is unfortunate that the tabloids appear to get rather confused when ranting about their hatred of the Human Rights Act and their hatred of the EU. After all, it can all get quite complicated, and with such feelings of outrage, who cares about the difference between the European Union, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Justice, the Euro… They’re all the same – right?

Wrong.

For those who are confused between the European Convention of Human Rights, such as the person in the above Tweet appeared to be, the EU has nothing to do with the European Convention of Human Rights, just as the EU and ECHR have nothing to do with the Court of Appeal. The EU is not a party to the Convention, and has no role in the administration of the court of human rights.

The European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, is administered by the Council of Europe (‘CoE’), an organisation set up in 1949 by the Treaty of London, for which the UK was one of the first ten states to sign up. Ironically, it was Winston Churchill – proudly named the greatest Briton by The Sun, and held in such high regard by the British Nation – who called for a ‘Council of Europe’ six years earlier in 1943.

Although signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights is a condition of EU membership, they are distinct institutions. The EU, by contrast, is an economic and political union of 27 states, and its development was separate from the CoE.

Despite so much British outrage regarding the subject of the European Convention on Human Rights in its most recent years, the European Convention on Human Rights was actually formed by the CoE all the way back in 1950, and entered into force in 1953. It is, in fact, an international treaty that is aimed at protecting human rights. Ironically, it was drafted in the most part by David Maxwell Fyfe, a British Conservative MP, lawyer, and prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. Furthermore, it was based on many of the UK’s common law rights. 47 states are now party to the Convention, and have all agreed to abide by rulings of the Strasbourg court. In a further twist of irony, consider that it was former Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, who signed the Maastrict Treaty in 1992, thus forming the European Union; David Maxwell Fyfe, a Conservative MP who oversaw most of the drafting of the ECHR; and it was Winston Churchill – yet another Conservative, who called for a Council of Europe. Yet, it is also the modern day Conservatives who now claim to be so skeptical of Britain’s role in the European Union and European Court of Human Rights.

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David Cameron in a Winston Churchill style meme (reproduced from The Sun)

However, it was the Labour enacted Human Rights Act, 1998, which brought much of the European Convention on Human Rights (which was based on many UK common law rights – as mentioned above) into domestic British law. This ensures that all UK courts are able to apply human rights law directly, which means that the vast majority of human rights judgments affecting British law, are actually produced by local UK judges. Thus, the Human Rights Act is an instrument which should be commended by those who want the UK courts to decide things instead of Strasbourg. The Act’s existence has made it rare for applicants to require a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights, and the case law developed by UK judges in UK courts since 2000 means that Strasbourg jurisprudence has become less relevant ever since. The Human Rights Acts also provides that UK judges cannot disapply primary legislation on human rights grounds, and so the supremacy of parliament is maintained – which goes against the tabloid propaganda that the UK has given away its legislative powers to Europe.

Since 2000, human rights have become part of the mainstream in litigation. I do find it incredibly ironic that Newspapers have sought to rely on Article 10 – Right to free expression under the ECHR (para 33 and 36 here), yet are so quick to loathe the very institution that gives them to freedom to publish such sensationalised misinformation.

From the amount of coverage and political argument the court generates, many may be mislead into believing that it rules against the UK hundreds of times per year. However, the statistics may surprise you: Only around ten judgements a year come from Strasbourg. In 2012 there were 3,308 applications made by individuals to the Court involving the UK, with only 21 were declared “admissible” by the Court. The 21 UK cases amounted around 2% of the total substantively considered by the Court (1,093), with the Court finding an actual violation in only ten UK cases. A similar number of applications were brought before the Court in 2011, suggesting that around 99% of applications from the UK are being dismissed in the very early stages.

Context is everything!

This is also one reason why leaving Strasbourg will not stop the courts preventing the removal of foreign criminals. As you can see from this full list on page 16 of this Ministry of Justice document, only a small number include cases on foreign criminals, extradition, or immigration.

In fact, the vast majority of such cases are decided by UK domestic courts, and none of the cases mentioned in previous Mail on Sunday’s headlines about courts stopping removals, is a European Court of Human Rights case. All relate to decisions by UK courts, as the Human Rights Act 1998 gave local UK courts the power to enforce most of the rights outlined by the European Convention on Human Rights. This prevents our human rights law being forged exclusively in Strasbourg, and UK judges are largely deciding UK human rights issues. Therefore, even if the UK withdrew from Strasbourg, the UK courts would still continue to apply human rights law, taking account the European Convention of Human Rights, as they are obliged to do by section 2 of the Human Rights Act.

Should the Conservatives also repeal the Human Rights Act, which has been suggested on many occasions, it would be replaced by a of Bill of Rights, which is likely to be similar to the ECHR – with a few British tweaks. Although the provisions of the European Convention are already enshrined in British law through the Human Rights Act, under Theresa May’s proposals, the final right of appeal would be to the British Supreme Court – not Strasbourg. That would mean a British citizen would no longer have the right to appeal a Supreme Court decision. Is that what Britons really want?

It must also be mentioned that the European Convention on Human Rights is just one of a number of international conventions that prevent the UK in deporting people back to their home countries, where they may face a real risk of torture, or from committing acts that may disproportionately affect children, such as ritual practices that harm children, paedophilia, and murder. Withdrawing from the European Convention would do little or nothing to change the UK’s human rights obligations – and nor would we want it to. I doubt the readers of The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, and The Sun, et al., would genuinely wish to withdraw from conventions that outlaw torture or protect children, if they were better informed.

If the UK were to leave the Strasbourg court, and the Supreme Court had the final say on human rights, British judges have occasionally suggested that a court might decide to disapply or invalidate a statute in exceptional circumstances. The 25-year old Court of Appeal judgment, (1) Nadarajah Vilvarajah, (2) Vaithialingham Skandarajah v Secretary of State For the Home Department 1990 which preceded the Human Rights Act, reveals that judges are not aways so obedient to the Government when it comes to interpreting basic rights – As Conor Gearty observes, ‘some judges might even be emboldened to strike down acts of parliament for breach of human rights, something that the current legislation specifically prohibits and so would be easier with the Human Rights Act off the scene.’ Likewise, I would imagine this would also be particularly so, if judges were aware that the safety net of an individual’s right to petition to the Strasbourg court, had been removed. The case of Nadarajah Vilvarajah and Vaithialingham Skandarajahin also reveals that Home Secretaries have felt unduly constrained by international agreements long before the Human Rights Act. Furthermore, Lord Hope stated in R (Jackson) v Attorney General, that the principle of parliamentary sovereignty ‘is no longer, if it ever was, absolute … It is no longer right to say that its freedom to legislate admits of no qualification whatever.’ Judges are supplied with a range of remedial powers that can address legislative actions that result in a violatation of rights, without the need to turn to the common law. Political posturing over immigration and asylum law long predated the Human Rights Act, and the law was as good then as it is now.

Nevertheless, reliance upon the principals of a judge does not mean we should let Home Secretaries, such as Theresa May and her ridiculous outbursts concerning the “evils” of human rights, dictate which agreement we remain party to.

Home Secretary Theresa May Recalled To Parliament To Answer Questions About The Deportation Of Abu Qatada

Home Secretary, Theresa May

The case of Ullah has also revealed that UK courts do “no more” than Strasbourg “but certainly no less“. Judges take the view that if there is a principle arising from a consistent line of cases in the Strasbourg court that does not conflict with British law, they will follow it. Therefore, the ECHR is not as ridiculous as the tabloids, and even some politicians, would have us believe. It also completely discredits the ridiculous anti-European propaganda on this website.

Further to the principle laid out by Ullah dictum, in the more recent Supreme Court judgment, Rabone v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012], Lord Brown examined the extent of the UK courts’ duty to follow decisions from the Strasbourg court, and their ability to go beyond such decisions. It was decided that UK courts need not always adhere to decisions of the Strasbourg court. Where a UK court is reluctant to agree with a decision by the Strasbourg court, it is permissible to reach a different conclusion from that reached at Strasbourg, but must ensure that Convention rights are not of a lower standard than those at Strasbourg. It has also been the case that the House of Lords has not followed clear decisions of the Strasbourg court when a decision can be distinguished without it, as was the case in Animal Defenders International v Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, [2006]. It is also the case that the UK courts need not follow a decision of the Strasbourg court when not taken by the Grand Chamber, as decided by the Supreme Court decision of R v Horncastle [2009]. (However, the UK court must follow an authoritative decision of the Grand Chamber.)Arguably, Lord Brown provides the courts with greater powers than those already recognised by the Supreme Court. In Horncastle, the Supreme Court decided not to follow a decision of the fourth section of the Strasbourg court which was on appeal to the Grand Chamber; in part, due to the concern that the decision had failed to take sufficient account of English common law. Yet, a court may decide that a Convention right applies beyond the current range of decisions found in the Strasbourg court, and UK courts may also go beyond the definition of Convention rights found in decisions of the Strasbourg court, as was the case in In Re G (Adoption: unmarried couple). Where there is no consistent case law from Strasbourg, it is still open to the UK courts to develop the common law to protect human rights – note that this is a development of the common law and not a definition of Convention rights.

The case of Ambrose v Harris (Procurator Fiscal, Oban)(Scotland) [2011] confirmed previous practices of the House of Lords, and Lord Kerr noted that Ambrose, appears to provide a stronger criticism of the Ullah dictum. The case recognised that domestic courts should have the power to define Convention rights when there was no clear decision from Strasbourg, thus suggesting not only that it should be a power of the court, but a duty. Whilst, interestingly, the case of Re P [2007], revealed that the October 2000 Law Commission report “Damages Under The Human Rights Act 1998”, proved to be more helpful in the court’s decision reasoning, than any particular determination laid out in law from Strasbourg. (Thank you to the anonymous person on Reddit, who so kindly drew my attention to the two latter cases mentioned.)

Therefore, withdrawing from the ECHR and abolishing the Human Rights Act, would appear to make little difference. Nevertheless, leaving Strasbourg could still, arguably, leave individuals in the UK in a weaker position against the state, if their rights are breached. The UK, along with Belarus – a country with questionable human rights – would be the only two European countries to not be a part of the ECHR.

Devolution also casts a long shadow over this debate. The fact is that the constitutional landscape of the UK has altered radically since the Conservatives last won a general election in 1992. As the Bill of Rights Commission discovered, the London Parliament’s options may be limited whilst issues surrounding Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales remain unresolved. Devolution makes the repeal of the Human Rights Act far less straightforward. A major issue is that both the Scottish and Northern Irish devolution settlements were intended to have the ECHR woven into their constitutional fabric from the outset. Thus, withdrawal from the ECHR could prove problematic to say the least.

The key question is whether withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights will solve the problems that the Conservative party – particularly the tabloids – have identified. The answer is ‘no’. However, given the unjustified British fear of European influence, an obsession with the expulsion of foreigners, and the rise of UKIP, the electorate are more than likely to disregard common sense.

Thus, I will ask the people of Britain this question: With regards Convention rights, which of our rights do we really wish to discard? The late Lord Bingham once stated:

“The rights protected by the Convention and the Act deserve to be protected because they are, as I would suggest, the basic and fundamental rights which everyone in this country ought to enjoy simply by virtue of their existence as a human being.

Let me briefly remind you of the protected rights, some of which I have already mentioned.

The right to life.

The right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The right not to be enslaved.

The right to liberty and security of the person.

The right to a fair trial.

The right not to be retrospectively penalised.

The right to respect for private and family life.

Freedom of thought,conscience and religion. Freedom of expression.

Freedom of assembly and association.

The right to marry.

The right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of those rights.

The right not to have our property taken away except in the public interest and with compensation.

The right of fair access to the country’s educational system.

The right to free elections.

Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any them un-British?

There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number.

Human rights are not, however, protected for the likes of people like me – or most of you. They are protected for the benefit above all of society’s outcasts, those who need legal protection because they have no other voice – the prisoners, the mentally ill, the gipsies, the homosexuals, the immigrants, the asylum-seekers, those who are at any time the subject of public obloquy.”

I think Lord Bingham hits the nail most pertinently on the head.

As for leaving the European Union, that is a different matter altogether.

There is much uncertainty on that matter, and the truth is that there really are more questions than answers at this stage, and many of the arguments for/against are purely speculative at the moment. If the UK were to withdraw from the EU, what would happen to foreign direct investment? How much of the regulatory burden currently imposed would we maintain if free to reverse it? How would the gross contributions be used if made available to the UK government? Would there be a mutually beneficial free trade agreement, or would the political fall-out from an exit lead to irrational protectionism? As Iain Begg at the London School of Economics stated to Channel 4: “If Mr Cameron said to the EU: ‘I’m taking my ball home, I’m not playing with you any more’, there would be some kind of revenge. That is what we would do if it were the other way round.”

What is desperately needed before any conclusions can be drawn, is a full blown cost-benefit analysis conducted by the UK government, using relevant counterfactual scenarios. It is somewhat surprising that the UK government has never commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of the UK’s continued membership. Might this be yet another indication that the Government is not really intending to withdraw from the European Union, but is merely playing the electorate?

Memo to the editors and publishers of The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, Telegraph: Inform your readers; do not confuse them further.

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The Daily Mail comes up with yet another story of David Cameron relying on the ignorance of the population to give the appearance of taking a tough line on ‘Europe’.

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Legalisation Of Cannabis And A Whole Pot Of Ignorance

Whilst in the process of writing a couple of other articles, a rather hostile debate broke out on Twitter, last night, on the controversial issue of legalising cannabis.

My personal views are somewhat mixed. Whilst I personally cannot abide the substance and would never care to even try it, that does not mean that I am against the legalisation of cannabis.

In fact, there are actually some very good reasons for legalisation, just as there are also some strong arguments against. Nevertheless, when pointing out the negatives last night, I received a number of responses from the ever-so-lovely fellow tweeters. Here are just a few examples:

As I dared to debate the potential problems that legalisation might present, I was subsequently blocked by TJ Kincaid @amazingatheist, for not sharing his views 100%. This was despite my stating that cannabis should be legalised, but felt that a very carefully drafted legislation, and tight regulation, should be construed.

There are certainly reasons for legalisation. For example, a study published in the UK medical journal, The Lancet, ranked cannabis as one of the least harmful drugs. Yet, many cannabis users are actually risking their health, and others via passive smoking, by consuming cannabis that is of uncontrolled and doubtful purity. For example, the ‘Talk To Frank’ website states that Cannabis may be ‘cut’ with other substances to increase the weight and the dealer’s profits, with laboratory-confirmed reports of impurities such as glass and pesticides being found in herbal forms of cannabis; and with hash/resin frequently being mixed with a range of substances to increase weight. The site also reports of a 2010 study on contaminants found in drugs, which reported that there were cases of cannabis being adulterated with henna, lead and aluminum. By legalising cannabis, regulatory measures can be taken to control the quality of the substance. Not to mention that with the substance currently being illegal, the Government receives no revenue, and criminals are making all the profits.

Furthermore, people who use cannabis for genuine medicinal purposes are criminalised and somewhat alienated for using it, and are prohibited from a beneficial medicine for a serious condition. No important long-term research can be conducted on the therapeutic uses of cannabis, because of its current illegality in Britain. As a result, police time is wasted, the courts are backlogged with multiple cases, whilst the prisons are overcrowded.

As for the benefits of the drug itself, the plant contains more than 400 chemicals, including cannabidiolic acid, an antibiotic with similar properties to penicillin. The different chemical derivatives of the plant can be used for medicinal or recreational purposes, and is reported to acts as a mild sedative, leaving most people feeling relaxed or sleepy. By contrast, it is also claimed to make some more animated, and is also reported to release inhibitions. Wide-scale trials testing the safety and efficacy of cannabis extracts (or synthetic forms of them) are currently underway, and so far there has been interest in the use of cannabinoids in nausea and vomiting, appetite, control of cancer symptoms, pain, anxiety and muscle spasticity. Cannabis appears to be able to help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment, although not more so than other already established medications. Some cannabinoids have been reported to relieve nausea during cancer treatment, allowing patients to eat and live normally. There have also been reports of cannabinoids having a protective effect against cancer in mice.

Research has also shown that smoking cannabis from a pipe can significantly reduce chronic pain in patients with damaged nerves, a study suggests. Cannabis extracts also seem to benefit people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), by reducing muscle spasticity, thus increasing a person’s ability to stay independent.

However, one myth about cannabis is that it is safe, because it is natural. Despite the suggested benefits, a survey of 1,000 adults conducted by The British Lung Foundation, found that one third wrongly believed cannabis did not harm health, and 88% incorrectly thought tobacco cigarettes were more harmful than cannabis. The NHS news website highlights that many of the same cancer-causing compounds in cigarettes are also present in cannabis, and reports on one study suggestion that over the course of a year, smoking a single joint each day could result in the same level of lung damage as smoking 20 cigarettes per day over the same period.

Indeed, studies have found a significantly higher accident culpability risk of drivers using cannabis, and chronic inflammatory and precancerous changes demonstrated in the airways of cannabis smokers, and a case-control study showed an increased risk of airways cancer that is proportional to the amount of cannabis use.

Furthermore, a study conducted at University of Toronto, on the adverse effects of cannabis on health found a causal role of acute cannabis intoxication in motor vehicle and other accidents with the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis, in the blood of injured drivers in the absence of alcohol or other drugs.

Several different studies indicate a link between cannabis use and schizophrenia. The adverse effect of cannabis use on the clinical course of schizophrenia has been confirmed in a 3-year follow-up study of psychotic and non-psychotic subjects in the Netherlands. Those who were using cannabis at the start of the 3-year period were more likely to have some psychotic symptoms, and especially to have severe symptoms, at follow-up. Both this, and a second study, revealed that those who had psychotic symptoms at the start of the study showed a more severe adverse effect of cannabis use than those who were non-psychotic at the start. Studies reveal that cannabis can also cause serious relapse in people with schizophrenia.

Furthermore, a significant link between cannabis and depression has also been found in various cohort studies, with a large-scale case-control study in New Zealand found a significant link between heavy cannabis use and serious attempts at suicide. A Canadian study found in a representative sample of over 1800 Quebec adolescents, that over one third had used cannabis and other illicit drugs more than five times, and encountered a variety of interpersonal problems related to their drug use. Cannabis has been shown to cause feelings of anxiety, suspicion, panic, and paranoia.

Another study has linked cannabis to testicular cancer, whilst cannabis has also been found to cause cognitive decline. A growing body of evidence indicates subtle but apparently permanent effects on memory, information processing, and executive functions, in the offspring of women who used cannabis during pregnancy. In total, the evidence indicates that regular heavy use of cannabis carries significant risks for the individual user and for the health care system.

Whilst recognising that there are limitations to the current evidence, the Canadian Cancer Society believes there is enough research to suggest an increased risk of cancer associated with long-term smoking of marijuana and being exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke. They suggest that cannabis smoke contains as many as 50 of the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke, and also state that there is scientific evidence that smoking marijuana may be associated with increased abnormalities in some of the cells in the body, including precancerous changes in the lungs. Might it, thus, not be wise that more research be conducted to better understand the cancer risks associated with long-term recreational smoking of cannabis and of exposure to second-hand cannabis smoke (not to mention the added risks of third-hand smoke), before ultimately deciding to legalise it? There are also studies which contradict such health risks, and the question is, which “evidence” should we believe?

My personal experience is that even walking a few centimetres behind a person smoking cannabis outdoors is sufficient to give me symptoms 20 minutes later, such as nausea, alteration of taste, insomnia, and brain fog. This would certainly tie in with the findings of scientific research.

However, despite the scientific findings that suggest cannabis is a harmful drug, none of the cannabis research carried out over the past 50 years has been conclusive. Although tobacco also affects the lungs, the law does not criminalise those who smoke, and it is not illegal to smoke outside of an enclosed public area. However, taking the possible health risks into consideration, combined with the risks of passive smoking, there is all the more reason to tightly legislate where the drug can be smoked. As free individuals we, of course, should all have the autonomy to put whatever substances we wish into our own bodies. However, it is unfair to inflict our potentially risky lifestyle choices upon others, via passive smoking. There is also the issue of burden upon the health service, which in the UK, is already under strain from lack of funding, the burden of the British binge drinking culture, obesity adding to the number of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease cases, and from people generally living longer and presenting an array of old-age related illnesses. Furthermore, there is the possibility of serious consequences arising from mixing cannabis with alcohol, which reinforces the requirement that we need a very tight legislation if the drug were to be legalised

I appreciate that cigarettes, alcohol, and pollution from vehicles are all toxic and can potentially cause much harm, but to use that as an excuse to add to pollution and health risks, is a very weak argument, and does not reinforce why a person has the right to selfishly inflict their smoke upon others, who may be suffering from chronic chest complaints. UK legislation makes smoking in a public place an offence under Section 1 of The Health Act 2006. However, it does not apply to outdoors, which means smoke is often a problem for people walking behind someone on the High Street, or standing at a bus stop, or living in a flat next to a smoker, etc., which could also be a problem if cannabis were legalized. A wise legislative solution might be to enforce that users only smoke the drug within the confines of their own private detached house, or at a special designated “Marijuana Bar”, where it will not impact the health of others who do not wish to have second hand cannabis smoke inflicted upon them without their consent.

On the grounds of legalising cannabis for its health benefits, it would surely be more prudent to administer a cannabinoid based medicine derived from the cannabis sativa plant, such as that which came into use in the UK in 2010 for people with MS, rather than administering the recreational cannabis that causes euphoria. Less than 3% of those in trials for the derived drug said it changed their mood. As a botanical product, it is difficult to test for efficacy and safety of the natural product, as the proportions of active chemicals can range greatly from plant to plant.

What is particularly interesting is that pro-cannabis advocates all claim that cannabis has the ability to “calm” a person. Therefore, I question why cannabis users are so hostile and aggressive in their method of debate, if the drug has such a calming affect? Surely such aggressive language and manner, similar to that on Twitter, goes someway in reinforcing the studies that suggest the drug causes permanent psychological problems such as anxiety, perception, paranoia, and hostility – not to mention mental illnesses.

It is also interesting that the pro-cannabis advocates, including TJ Kincaid, failed to note that I was not saying that the cannabis should not be legalised, but was merely pointing out the issues legalisation could potentially cause. Consider the studies that suggest how the effects of cannabis can interfere with a person’s attention, judgement, and thinking, and perhaps this suggests the reason as to why.

Alas, such hostility in the pro-cannabis advocates’ method of debate, is surely not the way to convince government officials of the drugs supposed benefits. Conversely, it might even go some way into convincing officials that the studies suggesting the drug’s adverse effects on the brain are accurate after all.

The Silent Male Victims of Rape

Whilst researching various sociological topics on Twitter, I was reminded how insensitive and ignorant people can be. This was a re-tweet from a so-called “holy” person. The initial tweet was also by a person who describes himself as “a child of God” in one of his subsequent tweets.

Almost every day, there are reports in the news of rape, or rape convictions. Indeed, recent reports reveal a 53% rise in recorded rape in London over the last four years, and whilst perusing through the Irish news the other day, I also discovered an article that reported on an increase of almost 18% in first-time callers to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre last year. A few weeks earlier, I had also read about the reported rape of a 14-year-old boy in the toilets of Debenhams in Manchester.

Most women in society are indoctrinated to be cautious of unfamiliar men, and to fear rape. From childhood, females are taught to be afraid of, and to never talk to any ‘strange men’. Women are warned to remain cautious: never be alone, keep all doors locked, and do not behave in a manner that may encourage a sexual assault. However, living in a patriarchal society, how often do we hear of such guidance provided for males?

Males, by contrast, are brought up from a young age to be “strong”, masculine, and “in-charge”; and indeed, feminists use our expectations and perception of what a male should be, to base many of their misandrical arguments, using their infamous male-female rape theories. Society so often perceives men as being the perpetrators, whilst women are the victims. Consider the following examples of despicable feminist misandrical misnomers:

“All sex, even consensual sex between a married couple, is an act of violence perpetrated against a woman.” Catherine MacKinnon

“In a patriarchal society all heterosexual intercourse is rape because women, as a group, are not strong enough to give meaningful consent.” Catherine MacKinnon in Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women’s Studies, p. 129.

“Most perpetrators are male and most victims are female. It is both a consequence and cause of gender inequality.”UK Rape Crisis Charity

“All men are rapists and that’s all they are” — Marilyn French Author, “The Women’s Room” (a metaphor in a novel to suggest male lust for power and domination.)

Ladies: Bear in mind that if, according to Marylin French, “All men are rapists”, this must mean that your dear baby boys are rapists, as are your fathers, and your grandfathers – and let us not forget your brothers, too! If there is any logic in the above feminist assertions, that must be the reason as to why your baby boys suckle upon your breast when they are breast fed, and why your baby girls must surely need to have your breast forced upon them – right? Furthermore, if such blatant misandric feminist arguments stand any validity, this would suggest that your sons will rape your daughters, and even you. Logic alone should tell us how absurd such statements are, and should surely reveal much about feminist theory.

Yet, with such preconceptions that rape exists only within the context of a male perpetrator – female victim model, very few people will consider how males are also victims of sexual assault. Yet, male-male rape is often shrouded in secrecy due to the social stigma that many men associate with rape, which annihilates everything that our patriarchal society dictates men should be. But, you might find the results of recent research to be quite shocking.

Statistics of Male Rape

The British Crime Survey estimates that up to 15% of the adult population of the UK have been sexually abused in childhood, and this includes 11% of young men. A 2003 national study of U.S. adults reported that 14.2% of men were sexually abused before the age of 18. Furthermore, Metropolitan Police figures reveal that on average, in London, a man is the victim of a sexual crime every hour, and the British government estimates that 11% of male victims report being attacked. Based upon such research, it is believed that the 945 assaults recorded by the Met in 2009-10, actually suggest a true figure closer to 8,500 in London.

Baroness Stern acknowledged in her 2011 rape report, The Stern Review, that the vast majority of male victims of sexual violence do not report their crimes because of the common view that men “should be able to fight off an attacker”. The review recognised that men do not report rape for the fear of being regarded “less of a man”. They fear being ridiculed, fear that they may be considered gay, or fear that they will not believed.

Several studies argue that male-male prisoner rape, as well as female-female prisoner rape, might be the most common and least-reported forms of rape, with some studies suggesting such rapes are substantially more common in both per-capita and raw-number totals than male-female rapes in the general population.

The claim in the following n+1 piece, suggests that more men are victims of rape in the US, than women, as a result of prison rape:

“In January, prodded in part by outrage over a series of articles in the New York Review of Books, the Justice Department finally released an estimate of the prevalence of sexual abuse in penitentiaries. The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.

No doubt, many will sneer at this finding, believing that it is a justified act for “undesirables” who deserve punishment, and need putting in their place. This is perhaps one reason as to why there appears to be so little interest as to the extent of prison rape, and so few reports. With such possible reason in mind, we must not forget about the number of innocent men who are wrongly convicted and imprisoned, and who are subsequently made victims of rape – a crime inflicted on them perhaps, in a cruel twist of irony, as a result of a false rape allegation for which they were wrongly imprisoned. How could such inhumanity ever be considered fair?

Rape as a weapon of terror in warfare

Male rape is also used as a weapon of terror in warfare, and the Syrian regime is regularly reporting that rape is used as a tool of war against male opposition forces, as is the situation in Congo. Feminists and the media regularly report of the horrendous cases of female rape in Congo, but there are very fer reports of the horrific physical and psychological damage suffered by the victims of male rape in Congo. I would highly recommend a read of this article from The Observer.

The Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that 22% of Congolese men (and 30% of women) have experienced sexual violence as a weapon of war. Male victims have also had genitalia amputated, raped with screwdrivers, circumcised, or castrated in cases where they were spared amputation. Yet, under Congolese law, it is the male rape victims who are the ones considered guilty of a crime, and can face severe punishment for the so-called crime of homosexuality. Male survivors will, therefore, almost never speak of their experiences to anyone. Taking this into consideration, the rate of non-reporting amongst male victims is likely to be high, thus, the real statistics of men victim to sexual violence before being killed by their rapists, cannot be accurately determined. The statistic is more than likely greater than 22%, and no charities or agencies providing funding to male victims of rape, to help them get them back on their feet, as there are for female rape victims.

Furthermore, these men will typically hide their experience from their family, due to fears of abandonment. According to an employee of the Refugee Law Project, it is common for a woman to take the children and leave her husband, upon discovering that he has been raped. The view being, “If he can be raped, who is protecting me?” The cruel, ironic, hypocrisy is that despite the patriarchal social view of women needing a “strong, protective man”; women are, in fact, “strong” enough to be the aggressors of male sexual assault.

Female-Male Rape

A study on male rape in Congo published by the Journal of the American Medical Association defies the cultural narrative of patriarchy surrounding male rape in Congo: 40% of sexual violence against women in Congo, and 10% of that against men, was perpetrated by women.

Only a few days ago, the BBC reported that three women in Zimbabwe who were arrested in connection with a series of male rapes, had their rape charges dropped, and were instead charged with 17 counts of aggravated indecent assault – merely because Zimbabwean law does not recognise the act of a woman raping a man. It is believed that there is a nationwide syndicate of women raping men in Zimbabwe, possibly to use their semen for use in “wealth” rituals. The three Zimbabwean women were charged after being found in possession of 33 condoms containing semen, obtained after a string of sex attacks whereby women targeted male hitchhikers.

Feminists argue that women are “more maternal” and “less aggressive”, and have been often speculated that if a woman were in charge, there would be no violence or wars. Yet, when Adam Jones examined the activities of five of the “female architects of the Rwandan genocide”, he noted the women not only participated in the selecting of thousands of Tutsi men and boys to be killed, but it was the women who were so often the ones perpetrating their murders. Accordingly, author Tim Goldich has stated:

“These cases of female leaders represent only a small part of the story of women’s participation in the genocide. At the grassroots, “very often, groups of women ululated their men into the ‘action’ that would result in the death of thousands of innocent men, women and children, many of them their own neighbours.”

“Their role was dominant in the post-massacre looting and stripping of bodies, which often involved climbing over corpses (and those still alive and moaning in agony) piled thigh-high in the confined spaces in which many Tutsis met their end. Frequently these women assisted in administering the coup de grâce to those clinging to life.”

Another report currently in the news, is the alleged rape and murder of a wealthy Nigerian man, Uroko Onoja, by his six wives; and let us not forget the female aggressors of male rape in the West: Only a few days ago, Oklahoma teacher, Michelle McCutchan, was convicted of raping two 16-year-old male students, and also Keyvette Gamble for sexually abusing her friend’s 14 year old son. In the later cases, however, both female perpetrators have been sentenced to 15 years in prison. There have been several widely publicised cases of female-on-male statutory rape in the United States involving school teachers raping their underage students, such as the cases that lead to the convictions of Mary Kay Letourneau and Debra Lafave.

Misconceptions and Ignorance

When a boy is sexually abused by a woman, people often do not recognise the harm. Take for example the recent case of, Zakiya Gaskins, a woman from Washington, who was charged with assaulting her neighbour’s 13-year-old son. Authorities had to relocate the teenage victim and his family, because neighbours harassed the boy when he reported the assault. It is reported that neighbours referred to him as a “punk” and quizzed if there was “something wrong with him”, because he “didn’t like it”. Another recent Washington case reveals how 18 year old Heaven Wright, gave her 13-year-old male rape victim a sexually transmitted disease.

Not only do male rape victims report a lack of services and support, but many legal systems are often ill-equipped to deal with this type of crime. Inconsistent definitions of rape, different rates of reporting, recording, prosecution and conviction for rape create controversial statistical disparities, and leading to rape statistics which are unreliable, and do not represent the full picture. Even though Britain has, more male rape awareness campaigns and crisis centres available per head of the population than in most other Western countries, under British Law, the crime of male rape was only legally recognised in 1994. Unlike most countries, British society is beginning to open their minds, and recognise that men are also vulnerable, and men have hope through Male Rights activist groups. Yet, even Britain still has a long way to go with regards public awareness of male rape.

A hard-hitting poster campaign by male rape charity Survivors UK, targeted this year’s Six Nations to urge victims to speak out, using the high profile at Twickenham. The masculine image of rugby was used to convey the message that male rape does not make a victim any less of a man.

There are still many misconceptions that male rape will only happen to a “weak” man, and that only gay men are raped. In reality, many victims are heterosexual. One example that might go some way in dispersing the “weak” theory is the story of a male US soldier who was a victim of female-male rape, and has since suffered Military Sexual Trauma (MST) after being raped by his female supervisor, who was a First Sergeant, and reported “used her higher rank and position to get what she wanted”. The US Attorney Shana Dunn, has reported that at least 27 percent of men serving in the military are estimated to have suffered “Military Sexual Trauma” either as a result of sexual assault, or repeated harassment and threatened assault. Whist the figure for females is 60 percent, the 27 percent figure for men is, nevertheless, 27 percent too many. So is the figure of 60 percent.

How can a man have an erection, or ejaculation, during a sexual assault unless he wanted it?

There is also much ignorance regarding the biological aspect of male rape, with statements such as, “a man cannot have an erection or ejaculation during a sexual assault, unless he wanted it”. However, an article by Philip M. Sarrel and William H. Masters entitled “Sexual molestation of men by women” (Archives of Sexual Behavior 11 (2): 82–88), states that male erectile response is involuntary. Any physical contact or extreme stress can cause an erection and ejaculation, and does not imply desire or enjoyment. Women can initiate penetrative sex through stimulation of external male genitalia or the anus, and can force penetration of the anus with the use of foreign objects such as dildos, or even force oral sex. As some abusers and rapists are aware of this biological process, and how it can confuse a victim of sexual assault, Survivors UK – a male rape charity, has reported that it motivates some attackers to “manipulate their victims to the point of erection or ejaculation to increase their feelings of control and to discourage people from telling their story”.

Although more research on male-male and female-male is beginning to emerge, almost no research has been conducted on female-female rape, although there have been cases reported, thus further dispersing many feminist theories and social misconceptions about men only being perpetrators, and females the victims. Perhaps there are fewer female-female rapes because of size restrictions: female victims are more likely to fight off a female aggressor, whereas men are often taught not to hit a women back. Certainly, as a female, I can testify to having been the recipient of far more aggression in my lifetime from fellow females, than I have from males. Memories spring to mind of being pushed down stairs, hit with a hockey stick, and pushed onto the road in front of a travelling lorry – all by fellow female schoolmates. Very little aggression was ever perpetrated by boys towards girls, yet, the girls were certainly known to hit a few boys. However, this is only an observation from my own personal experience as a Caucasian female living in Britain, and is by no means an official statistic. This is not to say that women are not victim to male abuse, as the domestic violence and rape figures reveal otherwise. Nevertheless, research on female aggression has revealed that women can be more violent than men, and let us not forget that rape is a crime of control and aggression, and not a random act of passion.

Given the extent of the social stigma towards male rape, and the level of patriarchy in society, it is understandable as to why so many male-male sex crimes are believed to go unreported. Even if the numbers are smaller – so what? Men are human beings, just like women; and no human being deserves such pain and suffering. Nor do men, as fellow human beings, deserve the psychological terror male rape victims experience of being judged, abandoned, ridiculed, and not to mention the fear or actuality of contracting HIV. In certain non-Western countries men are left with no access to healthcare or surgery, leaving them incontinent from their injuries, and unable seek help for fear of homosexual conviction. Many men end up doubting their sexuality, fearing sex, and many have difficulty forming relationships as a result of rape. Male rape can cause severe disability or disorder, and whilst the crime is undoubtedly a real threat for women, it is also so for men. It a heinous crime, no matter who the victim may be, and is not something to joke about, or judge a genuine victim for. Male rape victims need to know they have nothing to feel ashamed of – it is not their fault, and they need to be able to speak out.

Every single one of us could potentially be a victim of a sexual attack, irrespective of whether we are male or female. It is high time that the draconian views of society accepted this, and provided men with the same level of benevolence and protection as females.

Still not convinced? Question how you might feel if the victim of male rape were your son, or your father. Perhaps that concluding thought will provoke a few to open their minds, and hopefully their hearts.

Our personal data does not always need to be deleted by companies to comply with Data Protection Rules.

This week I am delighted to be a guest blogger for the Political Idealist website, which covers political, news and current affairs both in the U.K. and around the world. The Political Idealist is a website maintained by the talented Jack H. G. Darrant, who has keen interests in British democracy and environmentalism, regularly writes for The Independent newspaper, in addition to his weekly contributions in the ever popular ShoutOut blog. If you would like to know more, or enjoy this article, check-out the Political Idealist.

Many have questioned the safety of our personal data.  Now it appears that a loophole in the law could result in organisations holding personal data records, even when the information is no longer necessary for processing purposes.

Recent data protection guidance published by The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has revealed that organisations that are unable to justify the storage of personal data they had been previously processing, may not have to delete the information immediately, despite the fifth principle of the Data Protection Act 1998, which states that organisations are not permitted to store personal data processed beyond what is “necessary” for the “purpose” or “purposes” of that processing.

However, the ICO has stated in their new guidance, that recognised challenges can be faced by organisations during the process of deleting personal data. Thus, the ICO has stated that it would generally accept those “challenges”, provided that organisations put unjustifiably held information “beyond use”. The guidance states that:

“The ICO will be satisfied that information has been ‘put beyond use’, if not actually deleted, provided that the data controller holding it: is not able, or will not attempt, to use the personal data to inform any decision in respect of any individual or in a manner that affects the individual in any way; does not give any other organisation access to the personal data; surrounds the personal data with appropriate technical and organisational security; and commits to permanent deletion of the information if, or when, this becomes possible. We will not require data controllers to grant individuals subject access to the personal data provided that all four safeguards above are in place[…] Nor will we take any action over compliance with the fifth data protection principle. It is, however, important to note that where data put beyond use is still held it might need to be provided in response to a court order. Therefore data controllers should work towards technical solutions to prevent deletion problems recurring in the future”

The ICO  have also stated that organisational and technical safeguards will be necessary, yet  they have failed to provide any guidance as to the procedure of how organisations should implement the safeguards required, to ensure that organisations will not attempt to use personal data after it is no longer required. Furthermore, the ICO guidance stated that companies are allowed to retain personal data that is no longer justifiable in keeping, if they are unable to detach the information from other data contained in a legitimately stored “batch”, if the result of a “technical reason”. “In cases like this the organisation holding the information may be prohibited by law from using it in the same way that it might use live information,” the ICO said.

An example provided by the ICO is where: ” a court has ordered the deletion of information relating to a particular individual but this cannot be done without deleting information about other individuals held in the same batch.”

However, the ICO added that the permanent deletion of electronically stored information from the “ether” was not something that organisations would have to ensure. Thus, “the ICO will adopt a realistic approach in terms of recognising that deleting information from a system is not always a straightforward matter and that it is possible to put information ‘beyond use’, and for data protection compliance issues to be ‘suspended’ provided certain safeguards are in place“.

It would appear that the general view of acceptance by the ICO is that if personal data has been deleted with no intention to use or access this again, but still exists in the electronic ether, then data protection compliance is no longer applicable, because the data is no longer live. A potential problem could arise when the computers are later discarded, as there appears to be no guidance as to how to discard the equipment in a manner that would prevent access to the computer’s ether by a third party.

There are numerous methods in which third party sales companies and rogues can attain our information, ranging from companies selling our information onto third parties, unshreaded documents left lying around in an outside bin, the internet, public electoral roll records, or even the telephone directory. Perhaps this latest loophole discovery also answers the question as to where some international companies may be attaining our supposedly private information from.

This matter links in with the view of The Working Party, a committee made up of representatives from each of the EU national data protection authorities (DPAs), who have recommended that individuals should generally not be identifiable when their personal data is being processed. They recommend that organisations should be required to “anonymise or pseudonymise” personal data when processing the information if it is “feasible and proportionate”, as recommended as part of a published opinion on the European Commission’s proposed General Data Protection Regulation.

I am sure most of us will be in accord with The Working Party’s recommendation that:
 “The concept of pseudonymisation should be introduced more explicitly in the instrument (for example by including a definition on pseudonymised data, consistent with the definition of personal data), as it can help to achieve better data protection, for example, in the context of data protection by design and default.”

Perhaps “pseudonymised data”, if possible, is one way to prevent the possibility of potential abuse of data retrieval, should companies be negligent in their methods of discarding of any obsolete computer equipment during future system upgrades.

“Get outta m’ house!” New Law Criminalises Squatting

This week I am delighted to be a guest blogger for the Political Idealist website, which covers political, news and current affairs both in the U.K. and around the world. The Political Idealist is a website maintained by the talented Jack H. G. Darrant, who has keen interests in British democracy and environmentalism, regularly writes for The Independent newspaper, in addition to his weekly contributions in the ever popular ShoutOut blog. If you would like to know more, or enjoy this article, check out the Political Idealist.

September is now upon us, and at a time when an increasing number of people are falling into redundancies, unable to find employment, unable to pay their rent, and ending up without housing; the new squatting law comes into force as of today. This new piece of legislation now makes squatting a criminal offence in England and Wales. However, squatting in commercial premises will remain a civil matter.

The new offence, introduced by section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, will be punishable by a maximum prison term of up to six months, a maximum £5,000 fine, or both. Under this new law, the Police will now be able to assist landlords in evicting squatters from their property.

This change in the law has been described as ‘a tax subsidy’ for landlords, with the Chair of the Housing Law Practitioners Association, Giles Peaker, stating that:

‘ [Landlords] will no longer have to pay to get people evicted; it will be the police’s job to do it, paid for out of the public purse’.

Right-wing homeowners are delighted; whilst left-wingers such as lawyer and journalist, David Allen Green stated on Twitter:

“Bit by bit, the British state is shifting property rights from a civil law to a criminal law basis. Both misconceived and highly illiberal.”

A Law Society spokesperson said: ‘Residential occupiers are already adequately protected from trespass under the Criminal Law Act 1977, and for that reason we, along with the Metropolitan Police, the Magistrates’ Association and many others, did not see the need for the introduction of a new criminal offence for squatting.’

Campaigners have warned that criminalising squatting in residential buildings would lead to an increase in some of the most vulnerable homeless people sleeping rough. Furthermore, once a person is confined to a life on the street, it is very difficult to find a way out. Employment is unavailable to those without a fixed address, leaving a large number of people destined to life of homelessness for as long as they are unable to squat or have their name listed on a very long waiting list for council accommodation – provided they have a disability or dependents. As the homeless charity, Crisis, has stated, the new law will now criminalise vulnerable people who are just trying to find a place off the streets, leaving them in prison or facing a fine that they are unable to pay.

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Ultimately the Government needs to tackle the reasons as to why homeless people squat in the first place by helping, not punishing them. “It also misses the point,” Leslie Morphy, the chief executive of Crisis, said. “There was already legal provision that police and councils could, and should, have used to remove individuals in the rare instances of squatting in someone’s home.”

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt also added: “For too long, squatters have had the justice system on the run and have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs. Not any more. Hard-working homeowners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first – this new offence will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting.”

Certainly, one advantage to the new law is that having the police involved in removing squatters is surely more preferable to an unscrupulous landlord “sending the boys round”, which might also put innocent tenants at risk in a case where a home has been sublet without the landlord’s permission, unbeknown to the innocent subtenant.

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Whilst the right-wingers and homeowners may continue to cheer as they read these words, I raise the question as to whether the police will have the resources to enforce this new offence, given their previous unwillingness to act with the previous law outlined by section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. Not to mention that the new law is poorly drafted. Unlike section 7 of the 1977 Act, which previously protected homeowners by making it a criminal offence for a squatter to remain in a property after being ordered to leave by the owner; the new law does not cover gardens. Therefore, a person squatting in someone’s garden shed will, technically speaking, not be covered by the new law. Thus, we might now discover some truth in the fairytale phrase “pixies at the bottom of garden”…

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On that note, I wish you all a nice weekend.