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


What is missing from the bill


67.  The overriding message from our witnesses was that tackling anti-social behaviour depends as much on effective inter-agency cooperation and information exchange and wider support regimes as it does on formal powers.[83] And for victims, the important thing was to have a problem resolved quickly and for the anti-social behaviour to stop.[84]

SPEED OF RESPONSE: COURT JURISDICTION

68.  We recognise that the lower threshold of proof and the wider access for agencies to apply for ASB interventions is intended to speed up the response. However, our witnesses believed that delay was more to do with the court process itself than the legislation.[85] Clause 1(8) provides that jurisdiction for the Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA) will extend to Youth Courts for under-18s and the High Court or the County Court for adults. In contrast to the current ASB regime, the Magistrates' Court will not be involved.

69.  We heard that this was likely to severely slow down the process for dealing with ASB as County Courts are under pressure from reduced staffing and   more litigants in person because of the reduction in eligibility to civil legal aid. County Courts were also likely to be further away for victims to attend.[86]

70.  There were further risks associated with a move to County Courts. Magistrates Courts would typically have a Duty Probation Officer in attendance who would be able to arrange any practical follow-up provisions, such as make-good in the community. As Swindon Borough Council noted, "the County Court can imprison a defendant for breach of Injunction or fine a defendant. But it is simply not equipped to offer reform, rehabilitation and reparation".[87] Also, the number of firms taking on cases with legal aid in County Court was questioned.[88]

71.  Swindon Borough Council highlighted the existing Civil Procedure Rules 1998 which provide that in respect of ASBI, following an adjournment of court, proceedings must be dealt with within 28 days of the date on which the arrested person appeared in Court.[89]

72.  Current court timescales do not reflect the misery caused by ASB. The Government must not exacerbate delays by limiting ASB proceedings on IPNAs to County Courts. The bill must provide for proceedings to take place i Magistrates Courts as well. There must be a strict timescale of 28 days for Courts to deal with any breach of conditions.

Preventing ASB before it happens

73.  Time could be saved in court and much misery avoided by strengthening the informal interventions and services that prevent anti-social behaviour from occurring and recurring in the first place. In some cases, especially persistent neighbourly issues, ASB was often only alleviated by formal interventions.[90] However, for most of our witnesses, early informal intervention was the most effective route to deal with ASB. Witnesses were anxious about the introduction of new powers in the context of reductions in other provisions, such as youth services and early intervention schemes.[91]

POSITIVE REQUIREMENTS

74.  The draft bill makes an important step in dealing with underlying issues and tackling the causes of ASB by allowing positive requirements to be attached to IPNAs and CBOs—such as a requirement to attend an anger-management course—rather than rely solely on the kind of negative measures that are available under the present regime..

75.  However, there was serious concern about agencies' capacity to deliver this support in difficult economic circumstances.[92] It will be up to local councils (and other organisations proposing positive requirements) to provide positive services and, where funding is not available, those options cannot be attached to ASB interventions.[93] The Standing Committee on Youth Justice said that experience with the Youth Rehabilitation Order showed that the menu of options available was likely to be severely limited.[94] According to Kent Police, the more onerous the costs, the more reluctant agencies may be to pursue positive measures, to the detriment of the community.[95] Cuts could also affect the ability of agencies to monitor compliance.[96] Catch 22 agreed that the usefulness of positive measures would be limited by the availability of good quality services to address these needs.[97]

WIDER SAVINGS

76.  We heard that these extra requirements would come at a time when support services were being affected by the need for major cuts in public expenditure.[98] Support services can prevent behaviour from reaching the stage where formal interventions are necessary and cutting these services could increase the chance of criminalising perpetrators, which itself can lead to further anti-social behaviour.[99] Following our evidence session with children's experts, we asked for examples of cuts in services:

a)  some councils are cutting 70%, 80% or even 100% of youth services.

b)  almost 3,000 full-time youth services staff have been lost: 96% of respondents to a 2011 survey of the Confederation of Heads of Young People's Services said youth club activities would be either reduced or stopped altogether by April 2012.

c)  between 2009-10 and 2010-11, there were 835 fewer posts in youth offending teams (YOTs) in England and Wales, a 4% reduction in staff during the year. Further posts may have been "frozen" rather than deleted.

d)  Among 430 English and Welsh councils spending on services for young people had dropped by an average of 12.3% in the past year, down from an average of £116 to £102.49 per year. This equated to 28 pence per young person per day.

e)  20% of youth centres will close in the next year.

f)  The Early Intervention Grant, which includes funding for young people's services such as teenage pregnancy, has been cut by at least 25% over the course of this Parliament.[100]

INTER-AGENCY COOPERATION

77.  The new tools will not address inadequacies in case management skills, enforcement processes, information sharing and inter-agency working.[101] For example, the new dispersal power could simple move people on to another area and fail to address the underlying causes of the problem behaviour.[102] ACPO suggested that working practices may be improved by a positive requirement for Community Safety Partners to pro-actively share information.[103] We note the Cabinet Office programme to establish "what works" centres, such as the College of Policing, which may provide a model for promoting effective solutions to anti-social behaviour.

78.  As well as youth services, other support measures were relevant for preventing ASB. Mental health issues were common in victims and offenders alike, but the involvement of mental health organisations in dealing with ASB was patchy.[104] MOPAC suggest that organisations should cooperate to discuss these cases, if necessary in a secure environment where privacy can be maintained. MOPAC suggests that the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) approach that is used for domestic violence victims may have some relevance for these cases.[105]

79.  Victims of anti-social behaviour should receive the correct service, from the correct agency, at the first time of asking. To deal with ASB effectively, there must be good inter-agency working, intelligent information sharing and a network of services to support victims and tackle the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour before it can manifest itself. This early intervention helps to protect the public and helps to keep those who may be prone to committing ASB from setting out on a course that could lead them into trouble.

80.  This draft bill does nothing to strengthen these vital networks of support. That objective cannot readily be achieved by legislation. However, the bill comes at a time when frontline services tackling ASB—such as youth offending teams—are beginning to feel the effects of the current fiscal climate. If they are to continue to be effective, they must find new and effective ways of working in partnership together, adapting models of best practice to their won local circumstances and building strong local alliances in the fight against anti-social behaviour.

81.  In order to support the identification and dissemination of best practice, we recommend that the Government establish a National Anti-Social Behaviour Forum—headed by a chief constable, a housing association chief executive, and a local council leader for a term of two years—to identify "what works" in ASB reduction on the basis of cost-benefit evidence and local best practice.


83   Ev w37 [Big Brother Watch], paragraph 2]; Ev w68 [Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group], paragraph 6 Back

84   Ev 52 [Law Society], paragraph 3; HC 836 [Liz Walker] Back

85   Q 80 [Jane Plant] Back

86   Ev w23 [Leicestershire Police], paragraph 2.1; Ev w29 [Swindon Borough Council], paragraph 5.7 Back

87   Ev w29 [Swindon Borough Council], paragraph 5.10 Back

88   Ev w29 [Swindon Borough Council], paragraph 5.5 Back

89   Ev w29 [Swindon Borough Council], paragraph 6.1 Back

90   Ev w1 [Paddy Tipping], addendum Back

91   Ev w8 [London Borough of Camden], paragraph 1.2; Ev 42, Ev 45 [LGA], paragraph 2 Back

92   Ev w20 [ACPO], paragraph 11 Back

93   Ev 46 [CIH], paragraph 2.4; Ev 42, Ev 45 [LGA], paragraph 2 Back

94   Ev 48 [SCYJ], paragraph 7 Back

95   Ev w3 [Kent Police] Back

96   Ev w54 [London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham], paragraph 3.4 Back

97   Ev w27 [Catch22], paragraph 5.1 Back

98   Ev w50 [Norwich City Council], paragraph 1 Back

99   Ev 48 [SCYJ], paragraph 6; Ev w50 [Norwich City Council], paragraph 1 Back

100   Ev 53 [Barnado's Supplementary] Back

101   Ev w20 [ACPO], paragraph 28; Ev w23 [Leicestershire Police], paragraph 10.1; Ev 42, Ev 45 [LGA], paragraph 2; Ev w13 [John Dwyer] Back

102   Ev w3 [Kent Police] Back

103   Ev w20 [ACPO], paragraph 12 Back

104   Ev w1 [Paddy Tipping], addendum Back

105   Ev w74 [MOPAC], paragraph 20 Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 15 February 2013