Homelessness and Public Space Offences in Australia – A Human Rights Case for Narrow Interpretation
‘Homelessness and Public Space Offences in Australia – A Human Rights Case for Narrow Interpretation’ (2019) 7(1) Griffith Journal of Law & Human Dignity 103.
28 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2019
Date Written: September 27, 2019
Laws criminalising “vagrancy” are sometimes studied as an historical phenomenon. However, contemporary Australian laws, particularly “public space offences”, continue to have the effect of criminalising homelessness. Public space offences are laws that criminalise otherwise lawful activity – such as sleeping, drinking or hanging about – on the basis that it is done in a public place. Unsurprisingly, homeless people are particularly vulnerable to prosecution under these laws. This article argues that the indiscriminate and expansive application of public space offences would be contrary to international human rights law. That being so, this article suggests that public space offence legislative provisions ought to be construed narrowly so as not to criminalise conduct that is incidental to homelessness. This “solution” is characterised as a process of rights-orientated statutory interpretation. Not only would this give effect to the assumed legislative intention of complying with Australia’s international obligations, but it would also be consistent with the international law orientation of the state and territory Bills of Rights. Most importantly, a narrow interpretation of public space offences so as to exclude conduct incidental to homelessness would protect vulnerable individuals from what many in the international community, and in Australia, consider to be gross human rights violations.
Keywords: public space offences, homelessness, vagrancy, statutory interpretation, human rights
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