09 February 2005

When Crackdown goes OTT

Amidst much fanfare and column inches, the Home Office launched Crackdown on 12th January 2005. The Home Office press release said

"Operation Crackdown is being co-ordinated by ACPO and the Home Office. It will involve 32 police forces in England and Wales, focusing on closing drug dens, disrupting local drug markets, seizing illegal firearms and bringing dealers to justice. A key part of the campaign will be working closely with communities."

The Home Office appeared to hope that such a high profile campaign, on the run up to a general election, would provide much needed media coverage and reinforce the impression of a Home Office tough on crime and tough on drugs.

However, we have been hearing worrying tales of excess, especially in the closure of so called "drug dens." The word from the Home Office has clearly been that they expect the Police to use the new powers provided by the Antisocial Behaviour Act to close premises. But in some areas, where crack houses are few and far between, the Police appear to have struggled to find proper drug dens. So increasingly any drug user is finding themselves at risk of a closure order - even if they are not "drug dens." So squats are being emptied using these powers and people who are drug dependent and living with their families are being warned that they may be summarily removed from their properties.

We have received independent information from Wiltshire and from Hackney of such misuse of these powers, and it seems likely that such occurrences are taking place else where.

Drugs and housing advisors concerned about misuse of the powers should advise concerned service users of the following:
the property in question must be associated with Class A drug use AND nuisance or disorder; there must be evidence of both. If the property is not associated with nuisance or disorder it should be possible to challenge an application for a Closure order.

The property MUST be the subject of a properly-issued Closure Notice. If a closure notice has not been served properly, a closure order cannot be issued. Increasingly the police will want to serve a closure notice on an individual; otherwise it will be posted to the house and affixed to a door.

The Closure Notice will specify the Date, Time and Place of the Court Hearing that will determine if a Closure Notice will be issued. You will have to act very quickly.

If the occupier or tenant wished to challenge a closure order they will need to attend court and should get legal representation as soon as possible. It is essential that this is done very rapidly as from the point of Closure Notice, a Closure Order will be sought and issued within 24 hours.

With legal representation, the occupier or tenant should attend court and apply for an adjournment; this should be allow for proper submissions to be prepared and submitted. The court can grant a period of adjournment for up to 14 days.

The occupier and legal team should return to court and provide grounds to challenge the application for a closure order. This could include:
  • demonstration that the property is not associated with Class A drug use. This could be supported by evidence of drugs workers, housing support workers, evidence from drug treatment projects etc
  • evidence that the property is not associated with disorder or nuisance: this could come from supporting evidence from other neighbours, evidence from Housing Support workers, diary to demonstrate that nuisance is caused by others, etc
  • proposals that other approaches will resolve the nuisance or disorder: this include a willingness to attend treatment, agreement to exclude visitors who cause nuisance, or willingness to change behaviour that is causing nuisance.
  • other submissions that support the contention that the issuing of a closure order is not an appropriate response.
If a Property is closed, the person will be homeless. It is ESSENTIAL at this point that they do NOT surrender their tenancy at this point as they may be considered intentionally homeless. They should continue to seek legal advice, and make a decision as to whether they wish to take further action.

They can apply to the court for the Closure Order to be discharged, but would have to demonstrate to the court's satisfaction that the nuisance or disorder would not recur.

Given sufficient legal back-up and a strong case, there may be scope to mount a legal challenge to a closure order, but this will require extensive legal support and resources.

If you are squatting remember, these powers were intended to close properties associated with Class A drug use and serious nuisance. Squatters who are using drugs recreationally and are not causing disorder or serious nuisance should NOT be on the receiving end of such closure orders. It is important that efforts are made to challenge misuse of such powers in the courts.


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