The Petty Nature of these Laws

Rogues and Vagabonds

These offences have their roots in England’s Vagrancy Act of 1824 and criminalises various ‘nuisance’
behaviours, like:

  • Every ‘suspected or reputed thief who has no visible means of subsistence and cannot give a good account of himself’
  • Any person found on a road or at a public place ‘at such time and under such circumstances as to lead to the conclusion that such person is there for an illegal or disorderly purpose’.

This gives licence to police to arrest someone who is homeless or poor or is assumed a thief who has not caused harm to anyone. Police often abuses powers of arrest for such offences.

Touting

Touting has its origins in English law. Today in England the offence involves the soliciting of custom for unlicensed taxis. In African countries, the offence in practice appears only to require the soliciting or pestering of potential taxi or other customers e.g. ‘minibus touts’. The licensing status of
the vehicle does not appear to be required.

Failure to pay debts

A judgment debtor is a person against whom a court has issued a money judgment to pay another person. The judgment debtor is ‘in contempt of court’ if he fails to pay up. The usual punishment for contempt of court is imprisonment. Yet, detention makes it impossible for the debtor to engage in any work that could allow him to raise money to pay the debt.

 Loitering

Loitering with intent to participate in crime, is when a person or group is found at a known place of crime, having been seen there for a reasonable time. This offence also gives police a great deal of discretion to arrest a person who has not harmed anyone.