OXFORD City Council has delayed its decision on controversial plans for further restrictions on busking and begging after a civil rights group threatened legal action.

Liberty argued a public space protection order (PSPO) proposed was unlawful and would “criminalise homeless people and buskers”.

The order would have banned “persistent begging” and sleeping in public toilets in the city centre, but would have also effectively enshrined into law a buskers' code of conduct that stated performers must smile and enjoy themselves.

City council officers were set to gain powers to enforce the rules using on-the-spot fines of £100 and those who do not pay could be prosecuted.

Senior councillors on the executive board were to consider the proposal tonight.

But this afternoon council leader Bob Price asked officers to rethink the proposals.

In a statement the authority said: “We received Liberty’s comments this morning and it is responsible of us to take the proper time to consider the use of these new powers and what Liberty has to say.”

In documents seen by the Oxford Mail, Liberty lawyers Jason Coppel QC and Deok Joo Rhee claimed the proposed PSPO was unlawful on a number of human rights and common law grounds.

The lawyers told the city council it had not satisfied statutory conditions for a PSPO and alleged it had not complied with its duties under the 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

They added restrictions on persistent begging, remaining in public toilets and breaches of the busking code of conduct could constitute "disproportionate interference with a range of fundamental rights protected under the Human Rights Act 1998 and at common law and irrationality.

"Our conclusion is that there is a strong case that the draft PSPO would if adopted be unlawful."

It was the first time the organisation had directly intervened in plans put forward by a council for such an order and it had vowed to take legal action if it was approved.

Liberty legal officer Rosie Brighouse yesterday told the Oxford Mail: “If somebody is forced to beg or sleep in a public toilet, that’s not antisocial behaviour – it’s poverty.

Oxford City Council should focus on finding ways to help the most vulnerable people in their city, not slapping them with a criminal record and a fine they can’t possibly afford to pay.”

Today[june11] people were due to gather in Cornmarket to sing and busk in protest against the new PSPO, before moving to picket outside Oxford Town Hall.