Case Studies

Beyond the ASBO

by Mark Rowe

The age of the ASBO is passing – but various security guard forces can apply for what’s taking its place, writes Mark Rowe.

The Anti-social Behaviour Order (’ASBO’) isn’t working, the Home Office reports. Two new powers will replace the ASBO: an injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance; and the criminal behaviour order (CBO). The Home Office argues that the ASBO ‘failed to change the behaviour of perpetrators’. Front-line staff found it slow and bureaucratic to get an ASBO in court, and most orders were breached anyway.

The Government reckons that the new powers will be ‘faster, easier to use and more effective’. The injunction is a civil order that you apply for in a civil order, that will according to the authorities nip emerging, low-level ASB in the bud, while the CBO will be for the most serious anti-social behaviour (ASB) and breaching it will be a criminal offence.

Will these new orders match the official claims? The injunction is replacing an Anti-social Behaviour Injunction (ASBI), ASBOs on application, Drinking Banning Orders (DBO) on application, intervention orders and individual support orders. Social landlords have used the ASBI for more than a decade against ASB. Besides the police, local government, NHS Protect in England and Wales (for instance if someone is repeatedly drunk and threatening in A&E), private registered providers of social housing, Transport for London, and the Environment Agency can seek these injunctions. As you’re in the civil and not a criminal court, you only have to prove your case to the civil standard, ‘on the balance of probabilities’. According to the Home Office such an injunction would ‘send a strong message’. However unlike the old ASBO, it’s not a crime if you breach the injunction.

Quite how offenders are going to be made to ‘turn their lives around’ is not spelt out. The authorities say that the people on the ground might still try an ‘acceptable behaviour contract’ first; and they are encouraged to use their experience and ‘discretion’. As for the CBO the test in court is the same as for the ASBO. In CBO proceedings, you can offer hearsay evidence. More details of the changes are in a fact-sheet accompanying the Coalition’s Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

As an introduction to a guidance document for front-line professionals admits – with echoes of shop theft suffered by businesses – victims of ASB can feel passed from one agency to another, and yet what even the guidance terms ‘low-level’ offences can devastate the victim. Nowhere do the authorities square the circle of ASB as ‘a wide range of behaviours’ from vandalism and drunks in public to aggressive dogs and yet the public sector faces cuts to staff, who even in the ‘good’ years of the 2000s were criticised for not getting to the bottom of reported complaints.

As for a ‘community protection notice’, a social landlord can issue one to the anti-social; or police or a council can issue one to a business, for anti-social noise, smell, litter and the like. And district councils can issue the new public spaces protection order (PSPO), for instance if a dog off a leash or loud music is anti-social, for instance in a park – or a shopping centre. If you’re a guard force with community safety accreditation, you can enforce such an order for the council you’re contracted to.

Meanwhile in what may be seen as a fuzzing of police powers, community support officers can be given ‘dispersal power’ by their chief constable, the same as a police officer. Such a power already exists, typically to move youths hanging around or gathering with cars, or outside ‘problem’ pubs. The guidance explicitly says such power shouldn’t be used to move buskers on, or against picketing strikers or ‘a public procession’. What’s new is that police don’t have to designate an area as a ‘dispersal zone’ beforehand. And police can confiscate such things as alcohol or eggs used for Halloween tricks.

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