Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Sumoking’s Libertarian Corner - The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

This gem of an act grants local authorities, police and private security firms (i.e. the people retained by those who now own your parks, town centres, shops etc) draconian powers to bar citizens from hanging around lawfully in public spaces. Those who refuse orders under the new rules will face arrest, fines and even prison time. The wording is vague enough to endanger both rights to free assembly and protest but also to something as small as smoking (which I personally hate but FFS, if it is outside even I’m not that fussed, smoke in my house and TASTE MY PAIN though!). The act merrily rubbishes long held, and hard won civil rights and pushes the UK yet another step closer to being a de facto police state.

As currently drafted the act creates Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) which can be used by councils to deal with such life and death.

The bill also permits injunctions against anyone of 10 or older who "has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person". A 10 year old who throws a snowball now goes directly to jail. No Bart Simpsons in the UK. The Act will replace ASBOs with Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs), which not only forbid behaviour, but can also force the recipient to discharge positive obligations. In other words, they can impose community service on people who have committed no crime, which could, the law proposes, remain in force for the rest of their lives. Unless the section 5 get out applies. Section 5 of course ensures that any positive obligation should not “conflict with the respondent’s religious beliefs”. So, no to snowballs but crack on for female genital mutilation.

As a result of a dogged legal battle (also, bye to legal aid!), ASBOs can be granted only if a court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that antisocial behaviour took place, IPNAs can be granted on the balance of probabilities (51% likely 49% unlikely). Breaching them will not be classed as a criminal offence, but can still carry a custodial sentence: without committing a crime, you can be imprisoned for up to two years. Children, who cannot currently be detained for contempt of court, will be subject to an inspiring new range of punishments for breaking an IPNA, including three months in a young offenders' centre. It really makes you proud that we live in a country so hysterical about crime that a 10 year old child can effectively be tried as an adult.

On top of the new lynch a loiterer provisions, a new clause inserted by backbencher Steve Barclay MP will give police community support officers (PCSOs), the Civil Stasi of Nu Labour, new powers to stop and fine cyclists who do not have lights on their bikes. But not just lights. PCSOs will also be able to stop and fine cyclists if they don't have reflectors on their bicycles, including on the pedals.

And thanks to an even later Government amendment tabled in the Lords, PCSOs will also get much wider powers to enforce things like traffic offences by drivers and cyclists alike. PCSOs will also be able to fine drivers parking in school zones and other motoring offences. One could make a case for saying that this is beginning to change the role of PCSOs.

Home Office minister, Norman Baker, once a defender of civil liberties, now the arch architect of the most oppressive bill pushed through any recent parliament (and that is saying something!), claims that the amendments he offered in December will "reassure people that basic liberties will not be affected". But Liberty describes them as "a little bit of window-dressing: nothing substantial has changed." Given the chilling uses that were found for ASBOs it is difficult to put any faith in Baker’s weasel words.

Combined the new injunctions and orders create vicious weapons which the Authorities (and selected 3rd party heavies including “Housing Providers” who may apply for these under section 4.1) can use to prevent anyone from doing almost anything (unless it is religious, naturally). But they won't be deployed against anyone. Annoyance and nuisance are what young people (so anyone under 40 on current demographics) cause; they are inflicted by oddballs, the underclass, those who dispute the legitimacy of the grasping dead claw of the state. These powers will be deployed to stamp out plurality and difference, to pursue children for the crime of being young and together in a public place, to help turn this nation into a grey subservient monoculture, controlled, homogenised, lifeless, sterile and strifeless. For a government which represents the very old and the very rich, that must be paradise.

The Bill itself


Bayard said...

It reminds me of the golden days of the C18th, when you could be sentenced to death fo just about anything (no recidivism there). What actually happened was that if you were a toff or generally a good egg, you got let off with a fine, if you were underclass you got sent to Australia and if you were scum you really did get hanged. However it enabled the powers that were to haul up anyone they might not like before the courts and then get rid of the ones they really didn't like. It all boiled down to patronage, which is just how the new powers that be want it.