Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Absurd Vagrancy Act must go

June 04 2005
Idle and disorderly persons can be branded criminals under 200-year-old legislation In England, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Houses of Parliament passed four acts to "cope" specifically with the issue of "vagrancy" - in 1824, 1838, 1898 and 1935. All of these acts of parliament have now, sensibly, been repealed. That is, apart from the oldest one. It is 2005 and in England, legislation that is almost 200 years old and unbearably connected to the prejudices and misconceptions of a previous age, is alive and well: the Vagrancy Act 1824. The 1824 legislation would almost be poetic if it were not so absurd. Its purpose is to "punish idle and disorderly persons, and rogues and vagabonds". Those people who "beg in a public place", who "refuse to maintain themselves", are deemed to be idle and disorderly. To be "idle and disorderly" is a criminal offence and could result in a fine. Individuals who have already been castigated as "idle and disorderly" and then go on to "wander abroad", "lodge in the open air, or under a tent" or "endeavour to expose their wounds or deformities to gather alms", are incorrigible rogues and vagabonds, of course. However, if a person can "give a good account of himself or herself" then all may be forgiven, but failure to do so could mean, in 2005, a three-month prison sentence. More important than a possible prison sentence under this law, perhaps, is that within English law, an "idle and disorderly person" can be branded a criminal. I am often idle and frequently disorderly and I quite enjoy lodging under a tent. Only very rarely can I give a good account of myself. Under our law, I think that makes me a criminal.