Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012
|Long title||An Act to make provision about legal aid; to make further provision about funding legal services; to make provision about costs and other amounts awarded in civil and criminal proceedings; to make provision about referral fees in connection with the provision of legal services; to make provision about sentencing offenders, including provision about release on licence or otherwise; to make provision about the collection of fines and other sums; to make provision about bail and about remand otherwise than on bail; to make provision about the employment, payment and transfer of persons detained in prisons and other institutions; to make provision about penalty notices for disorderly behaviour and cautions; to make provision about the rehabilitation of offenders; to create new offences of threatening with a weapon in public or on school premises and of causing serious injury by dangerous driving; to create a new offence relating to squatting; to increase penalties for offences relating to scrap metal dealing and to create a new offence relating to payment for scrap metal; and to amend section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.|
|Introduced by||Mike Weatherley MP|
|Territorial extent||England, Wales & Scotland|
|Royal Assent||1 May 2012|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Official text of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database|
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is a statute of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, creating reforms to the justice system. The bill for the act was introduced in the House of Commons on 21 June 2011, and received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012.
Among other measures, the act:
- gives courts greater discretion to issue conditional discharges for young persons pleading guilty to a first offence
- creates a "single remand framework" for the use of secure remand for children and young people; transfers the cost of remand arrangements to local authorities; creates new conditions that must be met before a child or young person is remanded into custody
- expands Youth Rehabilitation Orders (YROs) to allow longer curfew hours, single duration extensions of six months; increases the maximum fines for breaches; and allows courts to order a period of supervision instead of custody following a breach
- abolishes the Legal Services Commission, a non-departmental public body, and replaces it with the Legal Aid Agency, a new executive agency of the Ministry of Justice
- removes financial support for most cases involving housing, welfare, medical negligence, employment, debt and immigration
- creates a new offence of squatting in a residential building, with a maximum punishment of 51 weeks' imprisonment, a fine not exceeding level 5 of the standard scale (£5,000), or both; and amends the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to allow the police to enter and search such a building if they suspect someone to be squatting in it
- brings the sentencing starting point for murders caused by hate on the grounds of disability or transgender to 30 years, to be in line with other types of hate crime
- modifies the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 to allow the Secretary of State to deport foreign nationals serving indeterminate prison sentences, once they have served the minimum term.
The creation of a new offence for squatting was proposed by Mike Weatherley, Member of Parliament (MP) for Hove in East Sussex, who had been campaigning against squatting since being elected to Parliament in 2010. In a consultation held in 2011, the government raised the option of criminalising squatting in commercial (non-residential) properties. Following responses to the consultation indicating a lower level of concern over such squatting, it indicated that it had no current plans to extend the definition of the offense.
At the time, polling indicated the public were largely in favour of criminalising squatting, with a YouGov poll finding eight out of ten people agreed with the change.
"I accept that the law already provides a degree of protection for both commercial and residential property owners as offences such as criminal damage and burglary may apply in certain circumstances. There is also an offence under section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 that applies where a trespasser fails to leave residential premises on being required to do so by or on behalf of a 'displaced residential occupier' or a 'protected intending occupier'. This offence means that people who have effectively been made homeless as a result of occupation of their properties by squatters can already call the police to report an offence. But there are many residential property owners, including landlords, local authorities and second home owners, who cannot be classified as 'displaced residential occupiers' or 'protected intending occupiers'."
Effects and criticism
Section 144 of LASPO, creating the new offense of squatting in a residential property, came into force on 1 September 2012. The first person to be imprisoned for the new offence was a 21-year-old bricklayer from Plymouth, who had come to London looking for work and squatted a council flat. On 27 September 2012 he was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison.
The act was criticised by the charities Crisis and The Big Issue Foundation as criminalising the homeless, possibly causing a sharp rise in homelessness, and benefitting landlords that leave their buildings empty. Several campaign groups protested the law at locations around the UK in 2011. On 23 February 2013, Daniel Gauntlett, a homeless man, was warned by Kent police not to shelter in a boarded up empty bungalow that was due for demolition. An inquest on 27 February found that his subsequent death sleeping on its doorstep was caused by hypothermia. In March 2012, the campaign group Squatters' Action for Secure Homes (Squash) published a report claiming that the cost of implementing the squatting law reforms over the next five years would reach £790m, some five times the official estimate.
In August 2013 Mike Weatherley wrote to the Prime Minister in support of an extension of the law to cover commercial properties. following 24 MPs putting their signature to an Early Day Motion in January 2013 calling for the law's extension.
In August 2011 the Law Centres Federation and London Legal Support Trust warned that a third of the 56 law centres in the United Kingdom would be forced to close as a result of the cuts to legal aid. In May 2012 the Labour peer Lord Bach, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice and current shadow spokesman on legal aid, condemned the legislation as "a rotten bill [that] demeans our justice system and therefore our country. [It takes] away from the poor their access to justice." Andy Slaughter, the shadow Justice Minister, described the legislation as "cynical" and "cover[ing] up mistakes made". The Ministry of Justice defended the legislation, stating that it would keep legal aid "where legal help is most needed, where people's life or liberty is at stake or they are at risk of serious physical harm, face immediate loss of their home or their children may be taken into care, [while] reducing the £2.1bn per year legal aid bill for England and Wales."
Transitional arrangements for the treatment of existing legal aid cases were established in 2013 by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Consequential, Transitional and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2013, which also made consequential amendments to secondary legislation.
In January 2014, thousands of criminal case lawyers across the country participated in a protest, by not participating in cases, against planned cuts to legal aid. The protest, organised by the Criminal Bar Association, was the first in the history of the criminal bar in the UK.
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- Hunter, Chris (28 February 2013). "Homeless man Daniel Gauntlett dies frozen on doorstep of empty bungalow in Aylesford". Kent Online. Retrieved 13 Nov 2013.
- Hern, Alex (4 March 2013). "Death of homeless man blamed on anti-squatting laws". New Statesman. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
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- Malik, Shiv (15 September 2011). "Squatting protests – as they happened". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
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- "Explanatory memorandum to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Consequential, Transitional and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2013". Ministry of Justice. 2013. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
- Rayner, Jonathan; Baksi, Catherine (4 August 2011). "One in three law centres set to shut down". Law Society Gazette. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
- "Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, Section 144: Offence of squatting in a residential building". UK Statute Law Database. 1 May 2012.
- "Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, Section 154: Short title". UK Statute Law Database. 1 May 2012.
- "The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Commencement No. 1) Order 2012". UK Statute Law Database. 24 July 2012.
- Walker, Peter (24 June 2011). "Criminalising squatting will hit homeless, charities warn". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
- Weatherley, Mike (26 October 2011). "Squatting Criminalised by MP Weatherley". Mike Weatherley. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
- Weatherley, Mike (8 May 2013). "Mike Launches National Commercial Squatting Fightback with Letter to Downing Street". Mike Weatherley. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
- "How the Act affects youth justice". Youth Justice Board. 14 March 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
- Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 at Ministry of Justice
- Full text of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 at legislation.gov.uk
- Full text of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Consequential, Transitional and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2013 at legislation.gov.uk