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


Conclusions and recommendations


Introduction

1.  Antisocial behaviour continues to trouble communities across the country. For some, it is no more than a background irritation, but for others antisocial behaviour can be a debilitating blight on their lives. It can corrode community spirit, creating a breeding ground for more serious crime. (Paragraph 6)

2.  The current antisocial behaviour control regime, though effective in some cases, leaves many people frustrated by a slow and uncoordinated response. Persistent antisocial behaviour, if it is not addressed quickly and conclusively, can be mean months or years of misery for the victims. The impact of anti-social behaviour on the individuals and communities affected must not be under-estimated. Perpetrators continue to reoffend and overall levels of antisocial behaviour are stubbornly high. In this context, we welcome the Government's decision to review and rationalise the statutory framework for dealing with ASB. However, as we go on to explain in this report, dealing with ASB depends on more than just the formal interventions available—it depends on facilitating inter-agency working, providing support services, and providing a speedy and predictable process through the court system. If the Government is serious about tackling ASB, then it will bring forward proposals on these as companion measures during the Bill's eventual passage through Parliament. (Paragraph 7)

Electronic format of the draft Bill

3.  We recommend that the Leader of the House of Commons ensure that in future all draft Bills are published in a form in which the normal features of the chosen format are enabled, so that users can make full use of search, copy and paste, and text-to-speech features. This is not just a matter of convenience—though convenience alone is a compelling argument—it is about providing information in the most accessible formal possible. (Paragraph 11)

4.  Publication of the draft bill was delayed by over a month compared with the timetable initially proposed to us by the Home Office. This left us just six working weeks for our inquiry, an unacceptably short period for pre-legislative scrutiny. This was a particular problem for witnesses, who in effect had only the Christmas period to produce submissions to us. It was clear from several responses to our call for evidence that witnesses were basing their responses on the White Paper and had not yet had time to reflect on the detail of the draft Bill. Moreover, the Government will continue to consult on the Community Remedy until 7 March 2013, so its position on this important component of the bill is not yet formed. (Paragraph 13)

Penalty

5.  Breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) on application was a criminal offence, but breach of an Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA) is not. We welcome the move away from automatic criminalisation for breach in the case of the IPNA, which is likely to be the main tool in the new ASB regime. (Paragraph 27)

6.  However, breach of this civil injunction could still ultimately lead to imprisonment. It is therefore concerning how much easier it is likely to be to obtain an IPNA than an ASBO. The IPNA is available on a lower standard of proof than the old ASBO on application, and available to more agencies than the old Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction (ASBI). Widening access to the IPNA risks imposing severe restrictions on more people and additional safeguards must be applied. For the IPNA, the threshold of "conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance" is far too broad and could be applied even if there were no actual nuisance or annoyance whatsoever. A proportionality test and a requirement that either "intent or recklessness" be demonstrated should be attached to the IPNA, as well as the requirement "that such an injunction is necessary to protect relevant persons from further anti-social acts by the respondent". (Paragraph 28)

7.  We also believe that there should be a specific requirement for any individual prohibition or requirement to be necessary and proportionate for the purposes of addressing the behaviour that led to the application for an injunction. (Paragraph 29)

8.  We note that there is a mechanism to allow offenders over 16 to shorten the period a Criminal Behaviour Order applied for if they complete an approved course. We see no reason why someone younger should be debarred from this option. (Paragraph 30)

9.  We note that there is a specific exemption from dispersal powers for peaceful picketing and recommend that this be extended to cover all forms of peaceful protest. (Paragraph 32)

Other instruments

10.  Each time successive Governments have amended the ASB regime, the definition of anti-social behaviour has grown wider, the standard of proof has fallen lower and the punishment for breach has toughened. This arms race must end. We are not convinced that widening the net to open up more kinds of behaviour to formal intervention will actually help to deal with the problem at hand. A duty to consult local authorities must be included in the dispersal power where it is applied for a period of longer than six hours. Public Spaces Protection Orders must include a requirement for six monthly interim approval. There should also be a clear exemption to dispersal powers where there is a genuine need to travel through the area. (Paragraph 35)

Young people

11.  Anti-social behaviour measures must be a short, focused nudge for young people to set them on the right track, not a millstone that will weigh around their necks for years to come. The bill must include an annual review of all formal ASB interventions imposed on under-18s to ensure that restrictions are not continued unnecessarily if behaviour has changed. (Paragraph 43)

12.  For under-18s, IPNAs should be available for a maximum of 12 months and should only be available after attempts to resolve the issue through informal support and acceptable behaviour agreements have failed. (Paragraph 44)

"Naming and shaming"

13.  47. Young people's sense of identity can be influenced by labels at a formative stage in their lives. ASBOs have been both a stigma and a badge of honour because of their infamy—both can undermine the effectiveness of the intervention. However, we are happy to leave the decision not to name a young person to the discretion of the judge, as envisaged by the draft bill. (Paragraph 47)

Community remedy: Restorative approaches

14.  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. (Paragraph 54)

The community trigger

15.  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. (Paragraph 63)

16.  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. (Paragraph 64)

17.  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. (Paragraph 65)

18.  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. (Paragraph 66)

Speed of response: court jurisdiction

19.  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 in Magistrates Courts as well. There must be a strict timescale of 28 days for Courts to deal with any breach of conditions. (Paragraph 72)

Inter-agency cooperation

20.  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. (Paragraph 79)

21.  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. (Paragraph 80)

22.  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. (Paragraph 81)


 
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Prepared 15 February 2013