Squatting law reforms aim to make squatting in an unoccupied building a criminal act. In a letter, published in the The Guardian last week, 160 leading legal figures say that the law change is not needed. They accuse the government of misrepresenting the law and misleading the public to push through reforms on squatting, and they accuse ministers of fostering 'ill-informed debate'.
Giles Peaker, one of the organisers of the mass letter, said in The Guardian "We know what the existing law is and I think people are actually extremely annoyed that it is being misrepresented … in the course of this particular proposal. The ministers must know [the law] and if they don't then that's severely worrying," he said.
Lawyers fear that the government proposals to criminalise squatting will also have the effect of banning peaceful sit-ins, a protest tactic that is favoured by students and workers. Speaking in The Guardian this week, Giles said it would be difficult for the legal system to distinguish between squatting and politically-based occupations.
"The consultation suggests that certain kinds of occupation might possibly be excluded, including things like students occupying university property, it doesn't say that they will be, and the suggestion appears to be you would have Ministry of Justice licensed protests – permitted and not permitted.… The potential for legal grey areas is huge."
Giles was also quoted in the New York Times on the issues of squatters, saying that homeowners are allowed to use “reasonable force” to get rid of squatters, though it is unclear what that means. Giles said no one wanted to do anything that might provoke counterclaims of assault.
For further information email Giles Peaker or call him on 020 7940 4000.