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‘Convict the guilty, not evict the innocent’

Threats to evict council tenants who commit crimes are a form of double punishment

06 July, 2018 — By Greg Foxsmith

FORUM: Greg Foxsmith 

There is currently a crime epidemic in Islington, with a level of knife offences in particular which is terrifying to contemplate. Answers to the problem are neither simple or straightforward.

A starting point is properly funded youth services, with early intervention and support to stop young people becoming involved in gangs and crime. The follow-up is properly resourced policing to prevent the commission of crime where possible, and where not to catch swiftly the perpetrators.

Both require funding, not readily available from a cash- strapped council in a Brexit- dominated Austerity Britain. In the meantime, politicians are under pressure to do something, or failing that to look as though they are doing something.

This inevitably leads to gimmicky ideas and eye-catch- ing initiatives. Conviction eviction, the latest in this grand tradition of playing to the gallery, is a poorly-thought-out proposal by Islington Council. Simply put, this means that anyone committing a serious criminal offence can be evicted from their home, along with their family members. That will teach them! Never mind that, if the person has committed a really serious crime, they will in any event be imprisoned, the ultimate type of temporary eviction.

Never mind that household members who may be blameless, or who may even not know of the perpetrators’ offences, also risk losing their home. Never mind that the policy will rely on prejudicial and arbitrary “police intelligence” , and fuel neighbour disputes by encouraging anonymous complaints to a local authority acting like the Stasi.

And never mind that the policy only operates against those in social-rented housing, discriminating against tenants but ignoring criminal acts committed by those fortunate enough to own their own homes. So long as the council is seen to be posturing as “tough on crime” that will be enough to take the heat off.

Of course, nobody wants to live next to an anti-social and criminal neighbour. But there are already remedies to evict families for anti-social behaviour under tenancy agreements and the Housing Act. That requires bad behaviour committed in or outside the home. This idea means that a person risks homelessness even if they – or a household member – commits an act miles away.

These proposals are wrong in principle because they are a form of double punishment. A person quite properly convicted and punished by a criminal court in Islington faces a further sanction outside of the court by withdrawal of housing services.

What other services should be taken away? Education for the children? If a parent has committed an offence, why not take the children out of school? After all, you are throwing them out of their home. How about the right to access health services? If the wayward teenager has committed a moped theft five miles away, why not also evict the grandparent living under the same roof, and cancel her hip operation?

Finally, the policy is not only discriminatory and illiberal, it will work only to displace the family elsewhere, presumably to either live on the street or alternatively to be rehoused, possibly by the same council evicting them.

Councillor Joe Caluori is one of Islington’s better councillors. He is usually well-informed, and knows and cares about his portfolio (children, young people and families). It is a shame that he has been lured into an unusual lapse of judgement by this Tory- approved template.

I trust that he has a change of heart, puts this idea back in the box, and concentrates on working with families to reduce anti-social behaviour, and on policies for convicting the guilty, not evicting the innocent.

  • Greg Foxsmith is a criminal defence lawyer and a former Islington Lib Dem councillor

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