Joint Committee On Human Rights Thirteenth Report

Part 1 of the Bill: closure orders on crack houses

5. Clause 1 would confer a power on a police officer of the rank of superintendent or above to issue a closure notice in respect of premises thought to be used in connection with dealing in or using Class A controlled drugs. After serving the notice, the police would have to apply to a magistrates' court for a closure order in respect of all or part of the premises. The court would be permitted by clause 2 to make an order closing the premises to all persons for a period of up to three months. The order could be extended, but could not remain in force for more than six months in total.[4] The court would be allowed to make the order only if satisfied that the premises have been used 'in connection with' the unlawful use or supply of a Class A controlled drug, and that the use of the premises is associated with disorder or serious nuisance to members of the public, and that the making of the order is necessary to prevent the occurrence of such disorder or serious nuisance for the specified period.[5] If an order is made, it would be an offence for anyone (including the owner or occupier) to enter or remain on the premises in breach of the order.[6]

6. As the Government accepts,[7] this engages the right to respect for private life and the home (ECHR Article 8), and the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions (Protocol No. 1, Article 1). The Government's view is that the measures are justifiable, being for the prevention of disorder and crime and the protection of the rights and freedoms of other people in the neighbourhood. The measures are said to serve a pressing social need because they close a gap in the current law relating to such properties and the serious nuisance and disorder which results. There are procedural safeguards to secure proportionality. In relation to Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (P1/1), the Government says that the measures constitute a control of rights rather than a deprivation of property rights, and strikes a fair balance. The Government points out that, although there is in its view no need to provide compensation to those adversely affected, the Bill makes provision for compensation to be awarded by a court in appropriate cases.[8]

7. We agree with this assessment. There are arrangements for an inter partes hearing before an order is made, for people to be allowed access to the premises in accordance with the order, for applications for the order to be discharged, and for appeals.[9] The order would be time-limited. In addition, a court would have to draft the order in such a way as to protect the Convention right to respect for the home of any occupier of the premises, and would need to bear in mind that it would often be disproportionate to deprive children and innocent co-habitants of their home on account of activities for which they had no responsibility. That being so, we consider that clause 1 would not give rise to any significant risk of incompatibility with Convention rights.

8. On the other hand, closure of premises might lead to innocent residents in a house, including children, being deprived of their homes, at least for a period, because of the conduct of other members of their family or other co-habitants. We were concerned that this could lead to a breach of the right to an adequate standard of living, including accommodation adequate for their needs, under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). This is not one of the Convention rights made part of national law in the United Kingdom by the Human Rights Act 1998, but it nevertheless binds the United Kingdom in international law. We therefore asked the Home Secretary what protection would be available for the rights under ICESCR Article 11 of innocent parties, including children, who are excluded from their homes as a result of other peoples misconduct.

9. The Government's reply points to two kinds of safeguards: first, procedural protections in relation to the making of the closure order; secondly, measures available to help people to find alternative accommodation. The procedural protections would include a right to make representations to the court considering making a closure order. The measures to help people without accommodation include: a right to free advice on housing matters under the Housing Acts; a right to be rehoused by the local housing authority if the person has a priority need and has not become homeless intentionally; and, in relation to children, the duty of the local social services authority to provide assistance, including in some cases help with accommodation, money, food and clothing.

10. In the light of this, we have reached the conclusion that there would be adequate measures available to prevent innocent people, including children, from having their rights under ICESCR Article 11 violated by a closure order made under Part 1 of the Bill.

4   Cll. 2, 5(1)-(5) Back

5   Cl. 2(3) Back

6   Cl. 4 Back

7   EN para. 175 Back

8   EN paras. 176-176 Back

9   Cll. 2(5)-(7), 5(6) and 6 Back

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