the erosion of our civil rights can’t come fast enough

The government’s latest plans ‘to toughen sentencing’ are about to be voted on by MPs tomorrow. Aside from savaging the legal aid system, the proposed legislation will also mean the criminalisation of trespass and squatting:

Kenneth Clarke has moved to toughen up his controversial sentencing bill by criminalising squatting and strengthening the law of self-defence for those who confront intruders in their own homes.

Which will sound reasonable enough to many perhaps, but are Clarke’s amendments actually for the protection of home-owners, or might there be an ulterior motive…?

The decision to ban squatting in residential buildings has been taken despite warnings that making trespass a criminal offence could also affect sit-ins and occupations and lead to an increase in the most vulnerable homeless people sleeping rough.1

Then yesterday, less than a week since Clarke’s announcement, and rather in the spirit of Clarke’s new proposals, Home Secretary Theresa May came out on Sky News to say that she hopes the authorities will be able to remove the Occupy London “squat” outside St Paul’s:

“It is important people are able to make peaceful protest but it becomes a bit different when it becomes a squat,” she said.

“I think we do need to look at the powers available. I would hope that the St Paul’s authorities, the Corporation of the City of London and the police will work together to ensure the protesters can be moved as soon as possible.”2

Yes, all these “squatters” are a terrible embarrassment, aren’t they?

Meanwhile, some opponents to the proposed anti-squatting legislation decided to take part in a “sleep-in” outside parliament. But — and here is a wonderful illustration of how our laws are actually applied — they were forcibly removed by police under “terrorism rules” that restrict protests to within a 0.6 mile (1km) radius.

Click here to watch a video of the protest available on the Guardian website.

As one protester puts it:

“I just feel sad that people’s rights are being slowly eroded little by little by little by little… and unless people do start wanting to change the system and insisting that the system changes, we’re just going to end up with no rights whatsoever.”

1 From an article entitled “Kenneth Clarke reveals plans to toughen sentencing bill”, written by Alan Travis, published in the Guardian on October 26, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/oct/26/kenneth-clarke-plans-toughen-sentencing-bill?newsfeed=true

2 From an article entitled “St Paul’s Suspends Legal Action Over Protest” published by Sky News on November 1, 2011. http://news.sky.com/home/uk-news/article/16100585

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