Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Have you ever annoyed anyone? I’ve probably annoyed all those readers who believe articles should not start with a question. Any spelling or grammatical errors will annoy the sub-editors. The coalition government, in their Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, have launched two new annoyances to express freedoms in Britain.
IPNAs (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance can be given to anyone over the age of 10, where the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, “the respondent has engaged or threatened to engaged in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”. These orders will replace ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders), which required someone to have caused another person “harm, alarm or distress”. The IPNAs will dramatically widen what types of behaviours fall under court injunctions. These orders also render such court considerations speculative – courts will ask whether someone’s behaviour might induce nuisance or annoyance.
Any behaviour may be considered annoying to another person. Indeed, the idea of a person so incapable of affecting those around them is actually quite annoying. A street preacher may prove a grotesque nuisance to passers-by, but be an enlightening salvation for darkened souls. A football game might be great exercise for the youthful players, but the constant bouncing will probably annoy their neighbours. Ordinary behaviour may fall beneath this sprawling jurisdiction. Many charities wrote to The Times to say IPNAs “could unnecessarily criminalise children for simply being children”.
PSPOs (Public Spaces Protection Orders) share the same futuristic scope as IPNAs, where authorities may limit activities “carried on in a public place within the authority’s area have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality” or activities are “likely” to have such an effect. These orders last for three years, but can be infinitely renewed. New dispersal powers in Part 3 of the Bill mean high-ranking officers may authorise the diffusion of citizens from unspecified localities “for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed”.
Civil liberties group Liberty points out that the Bill does not even attempt to define “locality”. Bans could apply across a street, or even a county. Given many activities that accompany legitimate protest – chanting, cheering, holding placards – could fall under PSPOs, they have serious implications for the student body’s ability to protest.
After the success of the ‘Reform Section 5’ campaign, which deleted the crime of “insulting” words or behaviours from the Public Order Act 1986, this is a strange move from the government. The Coalition Agreement stated:
We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has been abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties.
In 2010, new Home Secretary Theresa May said we should “move beyond the ASBO”. Despite the coalition government’s loose mantle on civil liberties, IPNAs have risen out of the ABSOs’ pyre, and will undoubtedly be much worse. Lord Macdonald QC, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, said these new civil injunctions amount to “gross state interference” with basic freedoms and citizens’ private lives. Simon Calvert, the Director of the ‘Reform Clause 1’ campaign alliance, said: “This is a crazy law. It will not deter thugs and hooligans who are normally already breaking lots of other laws anyway.”
These laws may suppress individual freedom with vague criminalisation, dulling our vibrant streets and tempering our ordinary activities with cascading injunctions. The coalition government must rethink this disastrous Bill – it is a nuisance to public life.
Note: This article was written for the Society section in the new issue of bathimpact. This section is edited by Tom Ash.