November 11, 2013
The UK Government is about to pass legislation which will make any behaviour perceived to potentially ‘cause nuisance or annoyance’ a criminal offence. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill also grants local authorities, police and even private security firms sweeping powers to bar citizens from assembling lawfully in public spaces. The Bill has successfully passed through the House of Commons without issue, and is now in the latter stages of review by the House of Lords, after which it will receive Royal Assent and become Law. Those who refuse orders under the new rules will face arrest, fines and even prison time.
Since the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which introduced Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) the government has invented and legislated for a litany of such orders covering everything from dog poo to drug addiction, including but not limited to: Control Orders; Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Orders; Intervention Orders; Crack House Closure Orders; Premise Closure Orders; Brothel Closure Orders; Gang Related Violence Injunctions; Designated Public Place Orders; Special Interim Management Orders; Gating Orders; Dog Control Orders; Letter Clearing Notices; Noise Abatement Orders; Graffiti/Defacement Removal Notices; Directions to Leave and Dispersal Orders.
The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, purports to simplify this legacy of New Labour’s legislative promiscuity. In reality, it creates a series of wildly ambiguous, generic orders which grant officers of the state and private sector even greater powers to issue tougher sentences, with fewer checks and balances to protect citizens.
The Bill introduces Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAS) to replace ABSO’S. Almost no one will be sad to say goodbye to ASBO’s. The orders, designed to allow police to tackle anti-social behaviour, simply became a means of criminalising youthful indiscretion — and eventually a means of criminalising anything people found annoying. Some of the bizarre abuses of this powerinclude:
- Stuart Hunt of Loch Ness brought to court 100 times since 2007 for breaching an ASBO preventing him from laughing, staring or slow hand clapping.
- Homeless, alcoholic and mentally ill Michael Gilligan given a 99 year ASBO rather than the welfare support that might have made a difference
- A profoundly deaf 17 year old girl given an ASBO and a jail sentence for spitting in the street
- A 13 year old banned from using the word ‘grass’ in England or Wales
- Manchester Council applied an ASBO to prevent a mobile soup kitchen from feeding the homeless
- Councils placing ASBOs on homeless people resulting in prison sentences for begging ‘earnestly and humbly’
- An 87 year old man was given an ASBO threatening a prison sentence if he was sarcastic to his neighbours.
The ASBO has allowed the line between criminal behaviour and annoying behaviour to become hopelessly blurred — and the IPNAs will only serve to increase the problem. We have seen the abuses permitted under ASBO legislation, the test for which included wording to the effect that ASBOs could only be issued where an actual act of ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ had occurred. IPNAs have a much weaker test, applicable where on the ‘balance of probabilities’ a person has or might engage in behaviour ‘capable of causing annoyance’ to another person. How many times a day could this legislation apply to any of us? Eating with our mouths open, talking too loudly into our phones in a public space, walking too slowly or quickly or belching without saying ‘pardon me’. All of this may very well cause annoyance — but soon it might well also be illegal.
The orders can be issued to anyone aged 10 or over (and we all know how well 10 year olds are at being annoying), and there is no limit on how long an IPNA can be applied to a person for. A person could receive an IPNA aged 10 and retain it their entire life.
Whereas an ASBO could only desist the subject from certain actions, the IPNA includes ‘positive obligations’ (p10). This means the subject of an IPNA can be found in breach not simply for doingthings they have been banned from doing, but from not doing things that the IPNA states they must. This makes an IPNA much closer to probation and other post-conviction arrangements than a civil order.
An IPNA can be applied for by Local Authorities, police, some transport bodies and some NHS authorities.
The consequences of breaching an IPNA are serious. The breaching of an IPNA has been added to the conditions for securing possession of a home — meaning a 10 year old child breaching their IPNA could result in the entire family being evicted from their council house. Breaching the orders can also result in jail time for anyone over 14.
Even the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), giving evidence on the proposals, argued that this could lead to further criminalisation of children and called on the government to think again.
In a letter to the Observer, Children’s Commissioner Dr Maggie Atkinson and a host of children’s charities wrote “”We acknowledge that antisocial behaviour can blight the lives of individuals and communities, but this bill is not the answer. It promotes intolerance of youth, is a blow for civil liberties and will damage children’s relationship with the police. Children learn the importance of right and wrong from their parents, teachers and communities. We do not need to create more laws to do it.”
But the plans move along unaltered.