Saturday, March 8, 2014

The modern return of Vagrancy Law

by Joe Hermer

The crime of 'being suspicious' seems to be making a return as the state seems ever more keen to police the poor and vulnerable. The recent case of 'stolen food' from Iceland is a perfect example.

The abandoned prosecution against three men for ‘skipping’ food from an Iceland grocery bin in North London last month caused public outrage and disbelief. A recurring feature of this story was that the men were charged under an ‘archaic’ and ‘obscure’ section of the Vagrancy Act 1824. The impression left by the media was that the current vagrancy law is a rarely used relic of Victorian times.

To present vagrancy law today to as ‘archaic’ and quaint statute makes invisible one of the most important but least understood police powers concerning poor people. In a series of complex maneuvers embedded within the leviathan like reforms to fight crime and disorder, the powers of the 1824 Vagrancy Act have been resuscitated in a way that has not been seen for more than a century. Indeed, the 1824 Vagrancy law has been re-purposed over the last decade as a truly modern tool to police poor, vulnerable and ‘suspicious’ people in public spaces.

Read on...

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