The Criminalisation of Trespass
We’ve all gotten lost on our Autumn strolls from time-to -time and perhaps crossed a field we didn’t even know we shouldn’t have. Landowners now have the right to prosecute, as on 28th June 2022, the now Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSAC) received Royal Assent, making trespass, in some circumstances, a criminal offence punishable by up to four months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £2,500. Many landowners welcome the introduction of the PCSCA as it provides a significantly less costly way for trespassers to be removed from land.
What The Law Says
Under the new legislation, it is an offence if a person over the age of 18:
- Resides, or intends to reside, on land, in or with a vehicle (including a caravan) without the consent of the landowner; and
- Fails to leave and/or remove their property as soon as reasonably practicable when asked to do so; and
- Has caused, or is likely to cause, ‘significant’:
- Damage to the land/property/environment
- Disruption to the us of the land and/or supply of utilities; and/or
- Distress via ‘offensive conduct’.
Just exactly what constitutes ‘significant’ damage, disruption, and distress? There is uncertainty surrounding the extent of damage, disruption and distress that must be caused before landowners, or their representatives, can rely on Police powers.
What Are The Defences?
The trespasser may show they had a ‘reasonable excuse’ for failing to comply with a request to leave the land.
Effects of The Law on Travellers
If the person fails to leave the land, or re-enters it, he can be arrested, and could face having his vehicle and/or caravan seized and impounded. Traveller groups have expressed their concern over the new law and questioned the lawfulness of its provisions.
Many local authorities are reluctant to build new pitches or grant planning permission for new caravan sites for travellers to utilise, forcing many communities to resort to unauthorised encampments. This puts at risk, travellers rights to practice their culture, without being criminalised in the absence of adequate sites.
Is the Law Effective?
While many landowners welcome the introduction of the PCSCA, how many police forces will apply the PCSCA, and the number of subsequent prosecutions that will occur, is yet to be seen.
Author Molliee-Mae Harding is a Conveyancing Assistant in the Residential Conveyancing Department.