Joint Committee On Human Rights Seventeenth Report

8 Street Furniture (Graffiti) Bill

Date introduced to the House of Commons

Date introduced to the House of Lords

Current Bill Number

Previous Reports

13 May 2003

House of Commons 106


8.1 This Bill would allow a local authority to serve a notice on the owner of any surface of land owned, occupied or controlled by a statutory undertaker, or any building, structure, apparatus, plant or other object in or on any such land, requiring the owner to remove or obliterate graffiti from that surface within 14 days, if the local authority considers the graffiti to be detrimental to the amenity of the area or offensive. The owner would have a right of appeal to a magistrates' court. If the owner fails to comply with the notice (subject to any appeal) or asks the local authority to remove the graffiti, the local authority would be empowered to remove it and to recover from the owner the expenses reasonably incurred in doing so.

8.2 Where the owner wants to retain the graffiti, a notice would interfere with the right to freedom of expression under ECHR Article 10.1, and would require justification under Article 10.2. It is not clear to us that detriment to the amenity of the area or offensiveness would justify the interference unless the graffiti are in some way outrageous (for example, provoking public disorder or crime, or threatening morality, or libelling someone) and are readily visible to the public at large, or violate planning requirements. No such limitation is contained in the Bill. This seems to us to make it possible that a notice would not serve a legitimate purpose under ECHR Article 10.2 and/or would be disproportionate to any legitimate purpose.

8.3 The notice would also engage the right of the owner of the surface to peaceful enjoyment of possessions under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the ECHR. It represents a control over property, which is justifiable if it serves a legitimate state aim (protecting public amenity and preventing offensiveness might be such aims) and represents a fair balance between the right and competing public interests. The Bill could lead to considerable burdens being imposed on owners: for example, the effect of a notice being served on London Underground statutory undertakers in respect of graffiti would have substantial financial implications; and it is not clear that imposing the cost of compliance on the statutory undertaker would represent a fair balance between the undertaker's rights and the public interest (or, in other words, be a proportionate interference with the statutory undertaker's rights).

8.4 Our Chair has written to Ms. Siobhain McDonagh MP, the Member responsible for the Bill, to draw to her attention our concerns about the compatibility of the Bill with ECHR Article 10 and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.

8.5 We draw the matter to the attention of each House.

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