ASBOs and civil orders
Recent years have seen a massive expansion in the number of civil orders that can be issued – breach of which is a criminal offence. This trend dangerously blurs the divide between the criminal and civil law.
Civil orders can be imposed on a person who has never been found guilty of any offence, and can be imposed for behaviour that is not criminal, but breach of the order becomes a criminal offence.
Anti-Social Behaviour Orders - 'ASBOs' - can ban people from specific activities or from entering particular areas. The order must last for a minimum of two years and can remain in force until a further order is made.
The Crime and Disorder Act first introduced ASBOs in 1998. An ASBO can be served against children as young as ten. The only criteria that the magistrate must use in deciding to impose an ASBO is that the individual has behaved in an anti-social manner "that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress".
Breaching the conditions of an ASBO is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. This means that individuals are being sent to prison for committing acts which may not be in themselves illegal.
Liberty is deeply concerned about the way ASBOs are being used. If individuals are committing crimes of intimidation or harassment, then the criminal law should be used to tackle their behaviour.
Other civil orders
Since the introduction of football banning orders in 1989 there has been a massive expansion in the availability and use of civil orders to regulate conduct outside of the criminal justice sphere. These civil orders range from at worst TPIMs down to orders banning items of clothing. Other specific civil orders include:
- Premises closure orders. These allow houses and shops etc to be shut down for up to three months if the premises were being used to make drugs; if anti-social behaviour has taken place on the premises, or if premises have been used as a brothel etc;
- Gang injunctions. These allow a civil court to effectively order that a person suspected – on the balance of probabilities – of gang involvement be subject to house arrest for up to 8 hours a day, to report daily to police, and to not associate with particular people;
- Foreign travel orders, which ban certain people from travelling abroad;
- Serious crime prevention orders, which allow a court to impose restrictions – outside of any sentence – if it believes a person has been involved in serious crime;
- Violent offender orders, which allow restrictions to be imposed on top of any sentence given to anyone considered to be a risk to society;
- Parenting orders, requiring parents to look after their child properly;
- Drinking banning orders, banning people from drinking in public places.
A review of civil orders
In December 2012 the Draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill was published following a Home Office consultation and White Paper on reforming the framework for dealing with anti-social behaviour.
Unfortunately the new regime proposed, whilst involving fewer specific orders, will be framed to cover even wider categories of behaviour and will be easier to impose. The Government’s proposals would also undermine the few safeguards which exist in the current regime and would continue to impose punitive sanctions on those who fall foul of the system.