Green Party press office briefing
Updated July 2004
Contact Ruth Somerville, 020 7561 0282
“ There is a glaring hole in the government’s strategy. Where are the real solutions that work at changing anti-social behaviour? Where are the measures to make sure people don’t offend in the first place?”
Adam Sampson, Director, Shelter
“ASBOs set a very dangerous precedent for the future: the government has introduced them as a way to criminally convict people through the civil courts, for crimes they have not committed.
Gareth Lynbourne, Policy Director, Liberty
1.1 ASBOs were first introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998. They are designed to give local authorities a tool to tackle persistent anti-social behaviour, without having to resort immediately to a criminal prosecution. Recently the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (that is due to come into force soon http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/en/2003en38.htm#end) has extended these powers. ASBO's were NOT conceived particularly with youth offenders in mind, although have been used against them because often the criminal courts were seen to be failing to protect the public from this group.
1.2 "Section 1 of the 1998 Act defines an anti-social manner as that which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm and distress to one or more persons not of the same household as the person against whom the order is made."
1.3 Anti-social behaviour has a ‘very broad definition’ (home office website). People can be served an Anti Social Behaviour Order for:
a. Harassment of residents or passers-by
b. Verbal abuse
c. Criminal damage
e. Noise nuisance
f. Writing graffiti
g. Engaging in threatening behaviour in large groups
h. Racial abuse
i. Smoking or drinking alcohol while under age
j. Substance misuse
o. Throwing missiles
q. Vehicle crime
1.4 But of course the definition of some of these can vary from authority to authority, ie noise nuisance will be defined differently in a small country village than it will in a busy city street.
1.5 Many of these activities are already criminal offences. For example, people can be convicted for racially aggravated harassment/public disorder under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. People can also be fined for dropping litter, criminal damage etc. In all these cases evidence must be gathered by the police and go through the criminal courts, where the subject will tried and convicted on the basis of the evidence ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’.
2.1 ASBOs are an unprecedented mixture of civil orders and criminal enforcement.
2.2 The police or local authorities apply for an ASBO against an individual on the grounds that they are acting ‘in a manner likely to cause harassment or distress’, as opposed to a concrete offence.
2.3 Authorities apply through the magistrates courts. It generally takes 13 weeks and 3 hearings from date of application to granting of the ASBO.
2.4 They usually take the form of a curfew, or banning an individual from an area. Leaflets with details and photo of the individual are sometimes distributed locally, urging residents to report sightings of the individual to the police.
2.5 The ASBOs can become a criminal offence when they are breached.
3.1 The possible penalties for a breach are harsh. An unlimited fine and up to five years in prison if the accused opts for a Crown Court trial. Also, if people breach their ASBO, they can be criminally convicted for walking down a street!
3.2 Individuals can incur a criminal conviction even though the order was obtained by information not admitted in a criminal trial
3.3 Standards are subject to the attitude of individual authorities. Manchester, for example, has granted 177 ASBOs while Wiltshire has granted only one. This leaves ASBOs open to abuse where there is institutional racism /anti-youth biases within the authorities.
3.4 ASBO's have to be made for a period of no less than two years. This is draconian and does not allow the judge much discretion.
3.5 ASBOs are expensive - £5000 each to grant – but not very effective. 36% end up being breached, criminalising the subject. This will further alienate the subject and since 77% of ASBOs are granted to youth, it gives a very bad start to life.
3.6 ASBOs are entirely punitive. NACRO, children’s societies, and even the government’s own findings suggest that crime is cured by prevention, not punishment. In the case of neighbour-neighbour conflict, mediation is 80% successful. ASBOs do nothing to address the causes of anti-social behaviour such as upset family life, run-down neighbourhoods, and no availability of parks or resources to relieve boredom. This is yet more legislation which is aimed at children who come from disadvantaged communities where there is little to do.
3.7 ASBOS set a dangerous precedent for youth’s privacy rights: in criminal courts, journalists are usually prevented from disclosing anything that could lead to youth’s identity being disclosed. In exceptional circumstances would a defendant under 18 be named. The mandate to name and shame youth’s granted under ASBOS, penalises both the individual and their entire family/friends by association. In some cases, where an ASBO has ordered the subject not to associate with certain people, those people (who have not been convicted) have been named in leaflets distributed to thousands of households. This means young people already at odds with their community, will be further vilified and excluded.
4.1 The government is looking to expand legislation to target anti-social behaviour. It announced on 14 October 2003:
a. Nuisance families will be targeted in four pilot areas.
b. Beggars will similarly be targeted.
c. The Home Office will set up "trailblazer" projects to deal with abandoned vehicles in London and Liverpool.
d. A national database will be set up to identify graffiti writers by their tag - the nickname or pseudonym they use.
e. 12 areas in England and Wales will pilot new powers in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. Currently before parliament, it will force the owners of telephone boxes and other street furniture to clean up graffiti.
4.2 The intention is to introduce legislation nationally. But the plans are not far advanced and the government has committed only £22 million so far.
5.1 While local authorities do need powers to deal with anti-social behaviour, they must address the causes of such behaviour rather than concentrating on punitive measures. The rhetoric of government does not help this, and merely distracts from the failure to deal with deprived neighbourhoods and failure to provide services and support for deprived adolescents.
5.2 the fundamental problem with ASBOS are that they overturn the principle that the law applies equally to everybody. Now each person can have their own “invidualised crime” with much harsher penalties then the rest of the public. there is absolutely no control over the actions that could become “criminal”, it is entirely left to the magistrates, save for a vague assumption that the European Convention on Human Rights will be respected. It is probably the single most serious attack on individual civil liberties which this government has yet devised.