Civil liberties campaigners and solicitors have expressed their concerns over the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) recently passed by Kettering Council, which will see begging and skateboarding in parts of the town become a criminal offence.
Earlier this month Kettering Council decided to pass the order, which could see offenders prosecuted and fined, becoming the first in the country to ban skateboarding using the new PSPO law.
But those opposing the order have told of their ‘grave concerns’ over the intentions and legality of the law.
Director of the Manifesto Club civil liberties group Josie Appleton feels the order targets activities that don’t cause public nuisance or harm.
She said: “The council’s report says: ‘The police have concerns about the number of people who use the roadways in Kettering as a place to congregate and socialise, particularly at night’.
“The council does not specify the actual harm involved in this action of loitering - is congregating and socialising now a criminal act?
“It is worth noting that only 160 out of 626 public consultation responses wanted the PSPO to apply to skateboarding.
“It is therefore questionable whether this meets the bar of proving that the activity has a ‘detrimental effect’ on the quality of life.”
Miss Appleton also feels that youths and those struggling financially will bear the brunt of the new law.
She added: “This (the return of under 18s to their home if found between 11pm and 6am) means that 17-year-olds will now in effect be under curfew.
“It appears that 17-year-olds can marry and join the armed forces, but they cannot go out at night in Kettering.
“This (the law) again, will mean fines for begging, an entirely wrong-headed response to the social problem of homelessness and destitution.
“At base, a person is being forced to stop begging on the streets of Kettering, with threats of fines if they fail to comply.”
Solicitor Luke Gittos, who specialises in civil liberties issues, says he has serious concerns about the impact of the order.
A letter from him to Kettering Council reads: “We are also concerned with respect to the legality of the Order, given its apparent conflict with the terms of the Home Office Guidance with regards to these orders.
“The order seeks to prohibit ‘aggressive and assertive fundraising - this prohibition is unclear.
“Fundraising must be assertive in order to be successful.
“The prohibition of begging raises similar issues.
“It appears that the PSPO is being deployed to bypass the difficulties in enforcing the criminal law with evidential force by passing an order which allows for the imposition of punishments without any judicial oversight.
“It is suggested that any such conviction would be classed as low level, similar to a parking fine.
“This demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the criminal law, a parking ‘fine’ does not amount to a criminal conviction at all.
“A conviction for an offence related to a PSPO could continue to impact on a person’s life long after the conviction is spent.”
Kettering Council brought the Order in to stop individuals or groups committing anti-social behaviour in public spaces.
A report discussed at an executive committee meeting suggested that areas where skateboarding is now banned were designed for pedestrians, not for wheeled vehicles.
It also suggested that where begging activity becomes persistent and intimidating to visitors to the town centre, current legislation is not flexible enough to deal effectively with it, despite complaints made by the public.