independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

High Court ruling helps put beggars back on our streets

THE 2011 law to control begging has been quashed by a High Court ruling.

There was a sharp drop in begging from April 2011 after gardai began implementing the Criminal Justice (Public Order) 2011 Act, which prohibited begging near ATMs and shops.

But a High Court ruling that gardai have to establish that the person they stop begging does not have a licence under the Street and House to House Collection Act of 1962 – the law that governs charitable collections – has led to a number of begging convictions being struck out in the courts in recent weeks.

As the convictions were struck out, the beggars – many of them Roma gypsies – have returned to the streets in large numbers.

To keep within the law beggars stay on the move, usually following a loop of busy city centre streets.

If they are stopped by gardai and asked if they have a permit to collect money under the 1962 Act they say they do not speak English and cannot understand.

Garda sources said last week that the new anti-begging law has, effectively, become defunct as gardai would probably have to prove in court that they had a translator present.

The High Court case was brought in the names of two men – Florin Rostas, a Roma gypsy, and John Maughan.

Their lawyers argued successfully that under the Act the gardai must establish that they did not have a licence to solicit money from the public.

Both had been charged under Section 2 of the 2011 Act, which prohibits begging that involves harassment or obstruction.

The 2011 Act defines begging as requesting or soliciting money "other than in accordance with a licence, permit or authorisation".

The High Court found that the gardai were obliged "to establish a prima facie case that the begging took place without legal authorisation".

It added: "Once this is established the burden of proof is transferred to the accused to establish a reasonable doubt as to the legality of the begging.

"It is a matter for the trial judge to decide if a prima facie case has been established."

The High Court case succeeded in January last year but it took a further year for the bulk of the begging convictions – it is understood there were around 200 convictions – to begin being struck out on appeal.

Once this began the beggars began returning to the streets.

Irish Independent

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