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Over 1,800 convicted under Vagrancy Act

November 01 2010
Archaic law still being trotted out to prosecure the homeless

In July's edition of The Pavement (The Act), we focussed on the Vagrancy Act, which came into law in 1824 and is still used to prosecute rough sleepers.

Offences listed under the act include begging and sleeping outside. It has clearly long outlived its usefulness and relevance to the modern world, especially given that it still lists "pretending to tell fortunes" and "wandering abroad" as criminal offences.

Using a Freedom of Information request, we found that 1,220 arrests were made in the capital in 2009, with 745 arrests for begging, the most frequent offence.

Since then, The Pavement has made another Freedom of Information request, this time to the Ministry of Justice, to find out the extent of its use around the country, and this time looking at the number of convictions. In 2008, the latest year for which the ministry has records, over 1,800 people were found guilty of breaking this arguably archaic law.

We also asked the ministry to provide us with a geographical breakdown of where the act was being used. Unsurprisingly, convictions were a great deal higher in large urban areas, with London and Manchester alone accounting for more than 700 of the 1,884 offences. Other areas that saw a notable spike in convictions were Merseyside and the West Midlands.

It is worth noting that convictions are not necessarily proportional to population. In Avon and Somerset, which includes Bristol and Bath, there were 42 convictions. In Merseyside, an area with a similar population, there were 190 convictions. This kind of discrepancy could be explained both by less strict police enforcement, or simply by certain areas having higher numbers of rough sleepers than others. Surrey, for instance, had just four convictions, and Dyfed-Powys in Wales has only one.