Monday, 11 July 2011

Kicking Squatters Pt I

“Legal Aid cuts for squatters” the Evening Standard trumpets, and that sounds like a good thing. In the public eye squatters are dubious unwashed people who pop into your home the moment you pop out for a pint of milk and the Daily Mail.

In reality the amount of Legal Aid spent on squatters is minniscule. Allow me to explain.

Squatters come in different sizes and shapes. That horror of the Daily Mail, the gypsies/drug users who move into your home while you are on holiday can be removed instantly by the police. Upsetting incidents reported recently are down to poor police training, different police priorities, and lazy sensationalist journalism. So no Legal Aid spent here ( though those same taxpayers are wasting their newspaper money on misleading information.

Professional squatters in my experience tend to be oddly sweet young people, often muddled and with a real or metaphorical dog on a string. They occupy long term unoccupied premises, they set up artistic exhibitions. They try to make friends with their neighbours, with varying degrees of success.

They know precisely what the rules are, and know when they will be evicted. Heck, they're smarter than I am about court procedure. An interim possession order would put them on the street in days. Still no Legal Aid, except the very occasional half hour checking the legal paper work and usually confirming that all was in order and they would have to leave.

Very occasionally, perhaps three times in 20 years of practice one might comes across someone who has been allowed to live unchallenged somewhere for decades, and may have acquired adverse possession (squatters' rights). The idea that people or communities may sometimes acquire land by right of occupation goes back to Roman times. I see no reason to interfere with the arrangements as they are.

Finally, the criminalisation of squatters means that far from cutting Legal Aid costs, these would rocket, as minimal spend on civil legal process is scrapped and expensive criminal legal aid kicks in. That's what I mean about Jingle Bells. Clueless!

The failure by many journalists in the Standard/Independent group to challenge government spin on Legal Aid cuts is a matter for dismay.

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