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Criminal Law Act 1977

This content applies to England

Occupiers (including those who are not protected by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 or the Caravan Sites Act 1968) are protected from violent eviction under the Criminal Law Act 1977.

Even if the landlord has a right to possession of the premises (eg s/he has obtained a court order against a residential occupier), this does not give the landlord lawful authority to use or threaten violence.[1] Offences under the Criminal Law Act 1977 are criminal offences and action is therefore brought in the magistrates' court (see the section on Criminal action for more details). The Act makes it illegal for a person 'without lawful authority' to use violence against someone else to secure entry to premises.[2] It is also an offence to threaten to use violence in any way.

Offence

The following elements must be satisfied before there is an offence:

  • premises: the definition of premises includes any building or structure and its ancillary land. It also includes moveable structures that are converted for residential use (eg caravans or houseboats). However it does not cover land alone[3]
  • violence: violence is not defined by the Act, but it can be directed against the person or the premises and must be either intentional or reckless
  • for the purpose of securing entry to the premises. Although this must be the objective it is not essential that the entry is achieved, and the reason for the desired entry is not relevant
  • someone on the premises at the time who is opposed to the entry. This could be a tenant, a licensee, or a trespasser. It can also be an estranged wife in occupation of the matrimonial home co-owned with her estranged husband opposing entry to him.[4] If the landlord waits until trespassers are not on the premises, then there will be no offence
  • the person using violence must know there is someone there. If the intruder suspects that there is someone there they should first take steps to check the accuracy of their suspicion.

Trespassers

If the person using violence, or trying to carry out the eviction, is a displaced residential occupier (someone who occupied the premises immediately before a trespasser) or a protected intending occupier (an owner or tenant who has not yet moved in) then s/he or her/his representatives may use 'reasonable force' to exclude a trespasser.[5] The section on Squatters gives more information about displaced residential occupiers and protected intending occupiers.

Although the provisions of the Criminal Law Act 1977 cover trespassers, the Act also contains an offence of failing to leave accommodation after having been requested to leave by or on behalf of a displaced residential occupier or a protected intending occupier[6] (see the page on Eviction without a court order for further details. This only applies to trespassers who entered the accommodation as a trespasser and not those who became trespassers due to the end of a tenancy or licence. For more information on trespassers, see the section on Squatters.

[1] s.6(2) Criminal Law Act 1977.

[2] s.6(1) Criminal Law Act 1977.

[3] s.12 Criminal Law Act 1977.

[4] Wakolo v Director of Public Prosecutions [2012] EWHC 611 (Admin).

[5] s.6(3) Criminal Law Act 1977.

[6] s.7 Criminal Law Act 1977.

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