The draft Anti-social Behaviour Bill: pre-legislative scrutiny - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Involving the victims

Community remedy: Restorative approaches

48.  On 13 December 2012 the Government launched a new consultation on a "community remedy", which will run until 7 March 2013. The consultation seeks views on proposals to introduce legislation to allow police and crime commissioners (or the relevant local policing body) to give victims of low-level crime (such as low-level criminal damage and low-value thefts) and antisocial behaviour a say in the punishment of the offender.[62]

49.  Not all witnesses were convinced by the effectiveness of out-of-court disposals. The Association of Convenience Stores highlighted that 34,688 fixed penalty notices were issued in 2011 for retail theft under £200, but over half of these notices went unpaid. Some were issued inappropriately to repeat offenders, or where violence had been threatened.[63]

ASB 18 [Catch 22], paragraph 3.7
A successful community programme:

Community Space Challenge, a national environmental programme designed to support young people to play a positive role in improving their local community. During its first five years, Community Space Challenge has worked with nearly 7,932 young people who have been formally identified as at risk of offending on initiatives to tackle anti-social behaviour and improve local community spaces. Of those involved, 5,156 (65%) felt more a part of their community; 5,949 (75%) had been in trouble less or not at all and 6,346 (82%) reported feeling that they could now make a difference to improve where they live, and 2,198(27%) were supported to get back into education employment or training.

50.  However, many witnesses attested to the value of alternative disposals.[64] Restorative practices have achieved a reduction in re-offending, from serious crime to low-level anti-social behaviour, according to Kent Police.[65] Victim Support agreed that, as long as proper safeguards are in place to ensure that the perpetrator cannot victimise them again, and as long as there is a real choice about participation, then involvement between perpetrator and victim can be very helpful.[66] Often a simple apology or an undertaking not to repeat the behaviour is all that a victim requires, and perhaps some time and effort to make up for ASB, rather than expose the perpetrator to formal interventions. Moreover, the more the sanction is related to the actions leading to it, the more likely it is to discourage reoffending.[67]

51.  Of course, careful protections will be necessary, including a full risk assessment. In one case, a homicide followed such interventions between ex-partners—the murder of Vandana Patel by her husband at Stoke Newington Police Station in 1991.[68] Victim Support pointed out that:

The draft Bill currently requires only that the perpetrator admits culpability (s.90(1)(b)), that the victim expresses a view that this or any other option would be appropriate (s.90(3)) and that the decision-making officer does not feel it would be inappropriate (s.90(4)). This is an inadequate level of protection for a restorative option to be selected: for example, this is likely to be unsuitable in a case where the perpetrator admits culpability for the isolated incident but blames the victim for provoking them, or where there is a relationship between the two involving complex power dynamics, for example a continuing or past sexual relationship.[69]

52.  There was also concern that a pre-conceived menu of options could limit police officers' discretion in dealing with ASB. ACPO believed that the menu should be kept as broad as possible and proposed strengthening the caveats around an officer's freedom to use other measures, with an inspector's approval.[70] This would be necessary if the list contains some punitive options, particularly if the perpetrator has learning difficulties, mental health issues or lacks maturity.[71] Other police forces were concerned about increased bureaucracy or a "tick box" approach.[72]

53.  According to the draft bill, the list of possible options will be agreed by the Chief Constable and the PCC. In order to secure proper community representation and involvement, wider consultation with local Police and Crime Panels and communities themselves may be necessary.[73]

54.  The Community Remedy is a welcome addition to the ASB response, if it can help to achieve an outcome that satisfies victims and helps to mend the ways of perpetrators without exposing them to the criminal justice system. However, the Community Remedy must not become the modern pillory or stocks. Additional safeguards are needed to ensure that officers have the discretion to choose alternative disposals, where appropriate. Additional assurances are also needed to ensure that victims are not drawn into the process without their full consent and understanding.

The Community Trigger

55.  The Community Trigger allows members of the community to demand a response to complaints of anti-social behaviour when a certain threshold is met.[74] This is intended to provide a route for members of the public who are frustrated by agencies' action on ASB and to prevent repeat cases or serious instances of ASB from slipping through the net.[75]

56.  The arrangements for reviewing complaints must be published, with the PCC having to be consulted before making and revising the arrangements. Third parties, including relatives or friend, may make a complaint and potentially activate the trigger on behalf of the victim.

57.  Pilots of the Trigger are being carried out in several areas, including: Brighton, West Lindsey, Boston, Richmond Housing, and Manchester. An evaluation report about all the trials will be published by Easter 2013. This is intended to serve as "best practice" guidance for local authorities.

58.  Ian Whiteway from Richmond Council said that the different characteristics of different areas should be recognised "there should probably be two thresholds, one for maybe inner-city, urban areas, and one for maybe countryside areas, because obviously the level of tolerance might be slightly different in different areas".[76] However, he believed that "It would be better to have one national trigger, because what you might find is some areas might set the trigger higher to maybe areas that might be less well equipped to deal with the volume that might come through". Rebecca Bryant of Manchester City Council, on the other hand, believed it should be a local trigger based on the types of cases.

59.  Some witnesses were concerned about the potential for perverse effects if local schemes responded readily to those who complain the loudest at the expense of the most vulnerable.[77] Individuals could use the trigger in a malicious, vexatious or indeed prejudicial way and weeding out the spurious cases could impose an extra burden on time and resources.[78]

60.  The Association of Convenience Stores proposed a maximum threshold for the number of instances of reported crime in a prescribed timeframe, which would allow for local variation while setting a consistent standard across the country.[79]

61.  Other witnesses recommended a qualitative test, centred on harm to the victim or victims, would be preferable to an arbitrary numerical threshold, such as the "spectrum of harm" model described by ACPO, the Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group and Richmond Housing Partnership.[80] This could help to prioritise agencies' response to the most vulnerable or those suffering the greatest harms. The draft Bill indicates only that the review procedures "may" make provision for this purpose by reference "either" to "the persistence of the anti-social behaviour about which the original complaint was made", or "the adequacy of the response to that behaviour".[81]

62.  Buckinghamshire County Council pointed out that what complainants will want to know is when the issue will be resolved, but there is no requirement for a timescale set out in the draft bill.[82]

63.  We agree that some element of local flexibility is a helpful feature of the Community Trigger, but it will not be an effective backstop against neglect of ASB unless there is a common failsafe. A guaranteed response to ASB must not be dependent on where you live. We recommend a national maximum of five complaints as a backstop for the trigger, with an option to set a lower threshold at local level. We recommend that this quantitative measure must be combined in all cases with a review of the potential for harm, taking into account the nature of the activity and the vulnerability of victims.

64.  If the trigger is activated and a response deemed necessary then agencies should be obliged to agree a timetable for dealing with the problem which they must share with the victims involved. Without a clear timetable for dealing with persistent ASB, then the Community Trigger would be little more than a gimmick.

65.  The Community Trigger needs a bullet—it must be clear not only what the trigger is, but what response will happen when it is activated. The Minister told us that it will be activated when something has gone wrong and there must be a way of holding agencies to account when they repeatedly fail to act. Otherwise, there is a risk that the trigger could delay action, as authorities wait for the trigger before taking action.

66.  But this must not be a disincentive for the trigger to be activated. Police and crime commissioners should therefore be kept informed each time the national backstop of five complaints is reached and audit the case review meetings. In areas where the trigger is set at fewer than five complaints, the involvement of PCCs should come if there are further complaints subsequent to the agreed trigger action. Local councils should be obliged to publish the number of times the trigger is activated on a six-monthly basis.

62 Back

63   Ev w15 [Association of Convenience Stores], paragraph 17 Back

64   Ev w20 [ACPO], paragraph 23 Back

65   Ev w3 [Kent Police] Back

66   Ev 38, 41 [Victim Support], paragraph 2.5 Back

67   Ev w27 [Catch22], paragraph 3.4 Back

68   Ev 38, 41 [Victim Support], paragraph 2.8 Back

69   Ev 38, 41 [Victim Support], paragraph 2.8 Back

70   Ev w20 [ACPO], paragraph 24 Back

71   Ev w44 [Criminal Justice Alliance], paragraph 23 Back

72   Ev w23 [Leicestershire Police], paragraph 8.4 Back

73   Ev 42, 45 [LGA], paragraph 4.4 Back

74   Community safety partnerships (CSPs) are made up of representatives from the police and police authority, the local council, and the fire, health and probation services (the 'responsible authorities'). Community safety partnerships were set up as statutory bodies under Sections 5-7 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The responsible authorities work together to develop and implement strategies to protect their local communities from crime and to help people feel safe. They work out local approaches to deal with issues including antisocial behaviour, drug or alcohol misuse and re-offending. Back

75   Q 37 Back

76   Q 35 Back

77   Ev 34 [National Housing Federation], paragraph 1.3; Ev 42, Ev 45 [LGA], paragraph 4.3 Back

78   Ev w13 [John Dwyer]; Ev w20 [ACPO], paragraph 25; Ev w23 [Leicestershire Police], paragraph 9.1; Ev w62 [Buckinghamshire County Council], paragraph 2.5; Ev w95 [South Yorkshire Police]; Ev 34 [National Housing Federation], paragraph 3.16; Ev w3 [Kent Police] Back

79   Ev w15 [Association of Convenience Stores], paragraph 12 Back

80   Ev 41, Ev 42 [Victim Support], paragraph 2.2; Ev w13 [John Dwyer]; Ev w20 [ACPO], paragraph 2; Q 85 [Eamon Lynch] Back

81   Ev 38, Ev 41 [Victim Support], paragraph 2.3 Back

82   Ev w62 [Buckinghamshire County Council], paragraph 3.6.5 Back

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Prepared 15 February 2013