London, June 5: A beggar is taking her local council to court claiming that a city centre ban on vagrants is infringing her human right to freedom of movement.
The Nottingham City Council last year became the first local body in Britain to issue banning orders on beggars, claiming they were a nuisance to the public.
Margaret Edlin, 25, was served an injunction in January after she was arrested 20 times in the previous 18 months. She faces jail if she enters a large area of the city centre or is caught asking for money in four suburban shopping districts.
However, having been granted legal aid, Edlin is invoking the Human Rights Act 1998. Her case will be heard before a county court judge in August and she will argue that her movement is being unfairly restricted.
Her solicitor, John Rosley, said it was important to challenge the injunction because similar court orders could be made against thousands of people across the country after other councils promised to follow Nottingham’s lead. If Edlin wins her case those plans will be thrown into jeopardy.
He said: “It’s effectively a new law that is being made. (The) Nottingham City Council is breaking new ground. This use of injunctive procedures in this way is quite new. There are human rights implications to what the city council is doing to a vulnerable person like Margaret Edlin. She and other beggars are people with a multiplicity of social problems. They don’t have a voice.”
Nottingham began a clampdown on begging last year after complaints from residents, shoppers, city centre workers and tourists began to mount. A special police unit was established and collection boxes were placed around the city centre so that people could leave money instead of handing it to beggars.
One beggar, Della ’Halloran, 22, was jailed for 28 days last week by the city’s magistrates for flouting an identical injunction to Edlin’s.
The council defended its “get-tough” policy and said injunctions were used only as a last resort against beggars who ignored repeated orders to stop.
Edlin, a homeless former heroin addict, said she needed access to the city centre just to survive. Soon after the injunction was served, she said: “There are many services on which I depend which are in the centre. If I am banned, where am I supposed to get help'”