Vagrancy Act 1824
|Long title||An Act for the punishment of idle and disorderly persons, rogues and vagabonds.|
|Chapter||5 Geo. IV c. 83|
|Territorial extent||England & Wales|
|Royal Assent||21 June 1824|
|Related legislation||Vagrancy Act 1935 Statute Law Revision Act 1950 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984|
|Status: Current legislation|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Official text of the Vagrancy Act 1824 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database|
The Vagrancy Act 1824 (5 Geo. 4. c. 83) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was introduced in 1824 as a measure to deal with specific problems in England following the Napoleonic Wars. The large numbers of soldiers who arrived, and who were discharged on to the streets with no job and no accommodation, were joined by a massive influx of economic migrants from Ireland and Scotland who traveled to England, and especially London, in search of work. The ancient pass laws were ineffective in dealing with the increased numbers of homeless and penniless urban poor. The Vagrancy Act was introduced as a method of dealing with a specific early 19th-century problem. Punishment for the wide definition of vagrancy (including prostitution) was up to one month hard labour.
Although the Act originally only applied to England and Wales, Section 4 of the Act, which deals mainly with vagrancy and begging, was extended to Scotland and Ireland by section 15 of the Prevention of Crimes Act 1871. The Vagrancy Act 1898 and the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1912 further extended provisions of the Vagrancy Act 1824 to Scotland and Ireland.
The Vagrancy Act 1824 made it an offence to sleep on the streets or to beg. In essence, it became a crime in England and Wales to be homeless or to cadge subsistence money. When the Act was passed, criticism of it centred on the fact that it created a catch-all offence. To sleep on the streets or to beg subsistence became a crime, whatever reason an individual might have had for being in such a predicament. That provision still applies. Discharged soldiers and sailors could continue to be granted certificates to beg for alms under certain circumstances.
The Act includes a provision for the prosecution of "every Person wilfully exposing to view, in any Street... or public Place, any obscene Print, Picture, or other indecent Exhibition".
The 1824 Act was amended several times, most notably by the Vagrancy Act 1838, which introduced a number of new public order offences that were deemed at the time to be likely to cause moral outrage.
The Vagrancy Act 1824 continues in force in the both England and Wales, although it has been much amended by subsequent legislation.
Its application to Scotland was repealed by the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. Section 18 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 (Ireland) repeals section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824, in its application to Northern Ireland.
Recent revival of the Act
Until recently it was believed that the Vagrancy Act 1824 had largely withered away in England through lack of use. However, in recent years the number of homeless people sleeping out has risen, and the use of the Act has increased dramatically, especially in the Metropolitan Police district (most of Greater London).
In 1988, in England and Wales, some 573 people were prosecuted and convicted under the Act. In May 1990, the National Association of Probation Officers carried out a survey of the prosecutions under the Act. That survey revealed that 1,250 prosecutions had been dealt with in 14 central London magistrates courts in that year, which represented an enormous leap in the number of prosecutions under the Act, especially in London.
- "An Act for the Punishment of idle and disorderly Persons, and Rogues and Vagabonds, in that Part of Great Britain called England". pp. 698–706. Retrieved 2013-11-06.
- The Law Reform Commission (1985). Report on Vagrancy and Related Offences (Dublin: LRC (Ireland)) p. 6f.
- HC Deb 25 June 1991 c861.
- "Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990". Irish Statute Book.