I recently read about the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (HL Bill 66) in the The Guardian and BBC News. I was somewhat taken aback – surely the government wouldn’t attempt to push through such a poorly thought out bill. And then I read it, and became depressed. Furthermore, I was shocked that such a poorly drafted incursion on civil liberties and free speech may have originated from a Liberal Democrat (Normal Baker MP) – I’m a Lib Dem, and generally think that as a party we are very concerned with such matters.
I’ve listed below some of my specific concerns, but overall my issues with this bill reflect those highlighted by the Lords recently (and as an aside, this is a perfect example for why the Lords are so important). Parts of the bill are overly broad, with minimal oversight, and allow arbitrary restrictions on peoples civil liberties and behaviour with minimal requirements for evidence.
Whilst the Home Office has “said the new injunctions – part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill – would never be imposed in an unreasonable way” (BBC News) that isn’t sufficient assurance. As we have seen with the Anti-Terrorism legislation over the last several years, governments will provide assurances while passing a bill which become irrelevant once the bill becomes law – examples include councils using RIPA to investigate dog walkers, the recent stopping of David Miranda under Counter-Terrorism legislation, and numerous others.
Furthermore, even if the Home Office currently believes their assurances are valid, can they be certain that they will be valid forever, irrespective of future changes in government and social values? The answer is of course that they cannot – the only defence against abuse of a law is to draft the law correctly in the first place – and the bill as currently drafted is very poor.
From an initial reading, and with the caveat that I am not a lawyer and so may be in error, I’ve called out my specific issues below.
Part 1 – Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance
This part is the most dangerous of them all. It allows injunctions to be issued against anyone, for almost any purpose, with no opportunity for defence, for any ‘nuisance’ or ‘annoyance’ with a relatively low standard of evidence required.
- Only a Balance of Probabilities (1(2)) is needed, rather than Beyond Reasonable Doubt
- The words “nuisance” and “annoyance” aren’t defined in the statement “conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person” (1.(2)) , and there is no requirement for reasonableness. For example, I believe that it is annoying when people stand on the wrong side of an escalator. Would this be sufficient grounds for an authorised person to seek an injunction against any particular person who has stood on the wrong side, to disallow them from using escalators ever again?
- Injunctions have unlimited powers (1.(4)) excepting religious and work/educational requirements (1.(5)). There is no requirement for proportionality other than that the court deem the granting of the injunction to be “just and convenient” (1.(3)) – I don’t know if “just and convenient” means something special in law, but it seems pretty ill defined to me – for example who should it be convenient for?
- The court does not need to take account of impact on an individual on freedom of expression, health (including mental), social life, or privacy.
- Interim injunctions may be granted without notice to the respondent (5,6). These are not time limited, nor is there any requirement to have a final hearing within an alloted time. These interim injunctions have all the power of a non-interim injunction. This means that a respondent may not have the opportunity to mount a defence, and there’s no guarantee of being able to challenge the interim injunction within any time limit. There’s no requirement that even any attempt be made to provide notice to the respondent.
- Detention orders for 14-17 year olds (Schedule 2) can be made for any reason, whereas remand of people aged 18+ can only happen when violence or harm is involved (3.(1)) – thus it appears easier to remand an under-18 year old in custody than an adult.
- In paragraph (17), why does Section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 not apply?
Part 3 – Dispersal Powers
This part could probably be used to disperse any collection of people for any purpose, other than picketing and if they have received permission to march etc.
- Locality isn’t well defined (33). What if the constable states “London” or “England” as a locality? This could be overly broad.
- Property surrendered (e.g. a busker’s musical instrument) may be destroyed if not asked for within 28 days (35(7)). What happens though if the person cannot ask during that time, due to illness, being in remand for another or related offence, being on holiday, etc?
Part 4 – Community Protection
Why are there both “Community Protection Notices” (Part 4, Chapter 1) and “Public Spaces Protection Orders” (Part 4, Chapter 2). Surely these substantially overlap and could be combined?