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On Wednesday 28th March Clause 130 the Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Bill passed through the House of Lords with little mainstream attention. The clause creates the new offence of 'squatting in a residential building' punishable by up to 1 year in prison.

It has made it this far despite a campaign of lobbying and protest by groups such as Squash and SNOB. Receiving barely any debating time since being tacked onto the (already draconian) Legal Aid Bill at the last minute back in October – completely ignoring the responses to the government's own consultation, which found over 96% against new legislation.

The act could come into effect as early as May, though it will be some time before it's full implications are realised, as the way it is enforced and how the courts interpret the new law will define how it will work in practice.

The government has claimed that the criminalisation of residential squatting represents a compromise, though in reality squatting in commercial and industrial buildings was not included due to the risk of inadvertently criminalising sit-ins and student protests. Also the definition of residential has been made so broad it will cover the vast majority of squattable properties. In addition to all this 'justice' minister Crispin Blunt has already stated that this is merely the first step – so expect the act to be extended when there is a surge in non-residential squatting.

On Friday 30th March 30-40 people marched through Bristol, promising to continue squatting regardless of the ban. A similar (probably bigger) protest is planned for Saturday 14th, meeting at 1pm outside Metropolis, Stokes Croft.

In Brighton around 100 squatters and supporters took to the streets on Saturday to express their anger at the new legislation and highlight the number of people who will become criminals merely for seeking shelter. Further protests are expected and SchNEWS' local squatters are also planning on hosting a squatters' convergence from 17th-20th May.

The past couple of years has seen a significant resurgence in Brightonian squatting, with several protest/project occupations and an increasing amount of coordination between residential squats. Whether the next wave of crackdowns on autonomous living will kill off this promising revival or whether an increased level of state pressure will actually bring out the best from the scene remains to be seen.

With an increasing population and another recession just around the corner it is disappointing, if not surprising, that this full frontal assault on the idea that the property ownership is not an absolute right has gone almost unnoticed.

For a more rufty-tufty account of the Brighton March go here

To get involved with the fight contact SNOB(aha)

Email; snobaha@gmail.com

Phone: 07531871895.


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Twitter: @SchNEWS