It seems as though a unique space within UK law is soon to be removed, or at least being discussed as so. Whilst the recent bout of occupations, and the display of revolt against the violent education cuts, reached their climax, I was away in another country. I read that the rights to squat were to be removed and altered from a civil to criminal offence, with the creation of the crime of ‘intentional trespass’, something the Tories had always planned to do, but not so imminently, and coincidentally. Having written and completed my thesis on squatting, I was moved to hear this, and a sadness that came from my own belief in the squatting loophole, and what its removal means, according to the amateur postulations of my own recent work.
My argument surrounded the idea that participants of squatted ‘social centres’ (communally-run spaces, with radical politics and community outreach at their heart), created their own law. This law operates horizontally, not top-down like state law, and has no force, no authority. Without relaying the entire thesis, the paradoxical role of this supposedly ‘autonomous’ law was that it emanated from state law’s acceptance and allowance of social centre law’s existence, through the aperture of ‘squatters rights’. Thus, what squatters’ rights effectively allow is a space for the alternative, and ultimately, the ‘other’ within law.
So what has this got to do with the threatened change to intentional trespass? It is a melancholic glance into the future by recounting some naïve and impassioned writings on squatting of the past – those that were not tainted by the recent plans to change the law so vehemently.
The removal of squatters’ rights, thus means the removal of the other within law. Nevertheless, if there is one thing that the criminalisation of squatting would show, would be the fallibility of the law from the outset. If squatters’ rights ever illustrated themselves as an instance of the ‘other’ within law, then this only goes to reassert the impurity of state law so too.
Through the ‘limitation’ of squatters’ rights, there is a point at which the individual rights of the owner intersect with those of the occupier. Squatting has been allowable within a ‘limited’ time, through the procrastination of histories of squatters, and the culminated due process of the courts. To take away the right to squat, is just to close up yet another wormhole of prefabricated time; alter the limit to the limitless. Squatting can no longer lie in a liminal zone between individual and communal, between allowed and not allowed – it will just become punishable by the force of the law, with no concessions.
It is not new to propound the impurity of law as an instance of its propensity as, and site of, change. Squatters’ rights are an example of where the law has been manicured in such a way as to limit the rights of the common, and yet the law had not done away with such rights entirely. To remind ourselves of this, is to know that this law can be altered and rights can be lost, but they can also be regained. The common will never leave the law, and law will never leave the common. Even if statutes are made and bills passed, the legal and/or illegal performance of squatting, will never cease. The point at which the politics of procrastination can work again, would be to halt this legislative change, and squatting the law itself until the political displaced intended occupier, has been removed.
By Lucy Finchett-Maddock, published at http://www.criticallegalthinking.com, 28 April 2011