The number of letters published in The Guardian on the topic of the law on squatting has now reached two and can therefore be fairly described as an “exchange”.
We have already noted Mike Weatherley MP’s letter to The Guardian and I urge you all to read that post. It is a sensitive, sensible, passionate and highly informed piece of writing. What follows is almost certainly not. It should only be considered for a bit of weekend light relief, probably with a glass, or more, of wine to hand - it was certainly written that way.
With that caveat, our starting point has to be the letter published at the start of the week (although as NL pointed out on Twitter last night, Mr Weatherley has some form for this sort of thing - careful now - so you may wish to revisit that post too). It may be worth re-reading, although I can make things a little bit easier by exclusively revealing the leaked early draft that I think Mr Weatherley must actually be responding to:
Them squatters is all ok, leave them alone. Itz good that they trick stoopid homeowners out of there homes, they deserve it for never needing expensive legal advice. The currant law is bang on right, coz we get lots and lots of luvverly money out of it.
[Note: get a trainee or a pupil to stick in some stuff about what the law actually is. I don’t really care, I just make it up and use long words like hithertotherebefore and then send the bill to the LSC]
Lots of love,
[then do that thing when you get someone to sign a blank piece of paper and then put this letter in above it, that way loads of fools will agree]
Which, I think you’ll agree, is pretty similar to the final version. Mr Weatherley was clearly a bit upset by this intervention by people who have a vague idea of what they’re talking about, which prompted his letter.
I am glad that my campaign to criminalise squatting has prompted 160 lawyers to write in.
It’s endearingly sweet of him to think that it is his campaign that prompted the letter. While it was clearly a concern, as anyone who has read the letter will be aware it certainly wasn’t the prompt. If I’m honest, Mike (if I may be so bold) I had to google your name to make sure it was spelt correctly. That’s right Mike, that’s how obsessed with your campaign I am. I’m crazy. I’m on the edge.
The self-proclaimed experts who signed the letter
Now, 158 academics, solicitors and barristers signed that letter (disclosure: I was one of them). That’s 157 experts (+ me). Who, as the letter points out, practise in housing law. They’re not “self-proclaimed experts”. They are the actual, honest to goodness, experts. I will admit that some of them are fond of letting people know just how much of an expert they are, but still. And, anyway, as they go on to demonstrate, they actually know what the law is.
Note here how he sets his stall out early. Those lawyers who signed the letter merely did so because they acted like sheep. Ah, how enlightening. Clearly the position now is that anytime a group of people all agree to the same thing they are only doing so because their limited ovine like intelligence doesn’t permit them to think or act independently. That is why all litigation is settled by consent (Lawyer 1: I think we should settle this on these terms. Lawyer 2: I’m a lawyer and you’re a lawyer, so if you think that’s ok then I have to agree. Lawyer 1: Baa baa. Lawyer 2: Baa baa). So henceforth we shall know that every time an open letter is published in the papers signed by a collective of economists, doctors, etc, the only reason that it obtained more than one measly signature is the sheep effect. Of course, this must presumably extend to every time more than one person does the same thing at the same time. It will be interesting to see what Mr Weatherley’s voting record in the Commons is like. One hopes that he doesn’t “sheep-like” simply vote the same as other people all the time, but manages to find a way to record his truly individual take on matters (Ayes: 321, Nays: 280, Quijibo: 1 (M Weatherley)).
have a huge vested interest when it comes to fees after all.
Perhaps we’re getting to the crux of the matter here. Of course, we’re only interested in this because of our fat cat lawyer fees. Suck on that you academic signatories in your ivory towers, smoking piles of legal aid money while you swill red wine over undergraduate essays to make it look like you actually read them before marking them. You know that you only agreed with this because of your vested interests.
They are dangerously out of touch with the real world if they think that the arrest of somebody who will not leave is a satisfactory outcome.
Not sure that we said that it would necessarily be a satisfactory outcome. After all a crime will have taken place. Nobody says that arresting someone for any other crime is automatically a satisfactory outcome. It is, however, an outcome and will allow the occupier to get back into their property. Which, presumably, is where we want to get to, no?
Squatters should be instantly arrested for being there at all.
And as if by magic, the shopkeeper the police appeared. Instantly. Then this sorry scene plays out -
Homeowner (it’s always homeowners, never tenants, hmm): Officer, arrest these hippies now. They’re squatting.
PC Dibble: Certainly sir, as you have asked them to leave and they have refused, I’d be happy to -
Homeowner: What do you mean, asked them to leave? I haven’t asked them.
PC Dibble: Ah, well if you could just ask them while I stand here.
Homeowner: There’s no time man. That could take days. Shouldn’t you be out catching murderers anyway?
These lawyers also have a huge gap in their practical knowledge if they think an average person is physically equipped to take on a gang of squatters.
Thanks Mike, I’d never have thought of that, even though Lord Denning in McPhail and Lady Hale in Meier already say that about self help. If only there was some sort of civil force that was responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order that could intervene and come to the rescue of the “average person”.
The police will not assist with an eviction in most cases without the backing of a magistrate’s order.
Oh, I see. The police won’t help. I’m going to need a bit of help with that whole “magistrate’s order” thing though. Anyway, where’s your evidence base for this? Always show your workings out, that way even if you get the wrong answer you’ll still get half marks anyway.
This takes sometimes a few hours, sometimes it’s the next day.
In the meantime, the unlawful occupiers will have been damaging your home, using your electricity, drinking your wine and sleeping in your beds.
Heavens to Murgatroyd, thank goodness he managed to eat his porridge before they got there. At least we know what this is really all about. Won’t somebody please think of the wine? (“Honey, I think the children may be left in there with those eastern Europeans”, “Oh my God, the 1990 Ruchottes-Chambertin, I left it in plain sight!”). Mike’s right about one thing though, it really is an outrage that they could spend all that time, in your home, doing those things and still won’t have managed to commit a single offence. Not one.
The police should be able to act immediately. Squatters need the threat of a criminal conviction to stop them.
Good grief. See above.
If any of those who signed the letter doubt this, then let me throw down the gauntlet - vacate your house for a few days and advertise its emptiness on the appropriate squatter sites. We will see how quickly you can get them out and just how distressed you are at the lack of justice.
I’m not rising to the ridiculously juvenile aspect of this, it’s beyond parody. Nice try though, trying to trick me into inciting criminal activity. You nearly had me for a second.
Maybe then you will think twice before defending squatters.
Right, got it. Hold me to your collective bosom, squatters, I’m with you, I am one, I am home. It’s not my home, it’s their home and I’m welcome no more, but still I’m here now, so pass us the claret. Again, Mike nicely bodyswerves the thrust of our letter. David’s earlier post has already dealt with the realities of squatting, so I won’t dwell on that. I do look forward to Mike’s proposals for reforming the Bar’s cab-rank rule though, which logically must follow on.
It’s no wonder that the public have lost faith in our legal system.
Again, some evidence would be nice, but I think the first letter demonstrates what is going wrong in terms of the public perception of this aspect of the legal system. Take a bow, Mike.
Just to be clear, and I’ll use simple words as much as possible, I am not saying that the current law is perfect, nor am I saying that it is an absolute joy, an unrivalled delight, to come home from holiday or simply popping to the shops for 20 Rothmans and find that you can no longer get into your own home. Quite obviously, that sucks. Big time. While I do have my doubts about just how frequently this happens and would love to see Mike’s evidence (sorry to stress that, but evidence is a good foundation for making policy), I do not for even a fraction of a second doubt that it’s bloomin’ awful when it happens to you.
It may well also be true that the police do not always respond in the most appropriate fashion. But the answer to that is better training, better education and ultimately better enforcement of the existing law. You might like to start a campaign for proper enforcement of the law on unlawful eviction while you’re at it.
What I am saying, and what the 157 experts that I co-signed with are saying, is that politicians and the press keep on misstating the current law. This much is clear from a quick compare-and-contrast between the nonsense frequently spouted and the guidance issued by the DCLG (that’s your government, Mike). If there is to be a change in the law, and perhaps there should be, let’s have a rational and informed debate about that.
So here’s a challenge Mike. A proper one.
- Tell us what the factual errors in our letter are;
- Show (you can use pictures if you like) that you know what the existing law is;
- Explain how your proposals will improve upon the existing law with a properly worked example of a scenario where the current law leads to injustice (bonus marks for an evidence base that shows how often this would happen).
Drinking your wine though. Drinking your wine. Oh, the inhumanity.