Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from the City of London Corporation (ASB 16)

1. This memorandum responds to the call for written evidence issued on 11th June. The City Corporation has a particular interest in the Bill, relating to the control of anti-social behaviour in public open spaces. The Corporation governs a number of open spaces which are outside the City of London, and for which it is not the local authority. This memorandum proposes that the new public spaces protection orders introduced by the Bill should be available to statutory custodians in the position of the City Corporation.

2. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the City Corporation has assumed responsibility for the governance and management of a number of significant open spaces outside the City of London, for the purposes of public recreation and enjoyment. Notable examples include Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath, Burnham Beeches, Kenley Common and West Ham Park. These spaces are funded by the Corporation from its corporate and charitable resources and not from public funds. They are very popular with the public they serve. The City Corporation is probably the most significant example of a statutory custodian of public space for which it is not the local authority, but it is by no means the only such body.

3. The City Corporation has extensive regulatory powers, including the power to make bye-laws, under the various private statutes which govern the open spaces. In practice, bye-laws made by the Corporation are the principal means of controlling anti-social behaviour in its open spaces. These bye-laws are enforced in the first instance largely by the Corporation’s own officers, who generally have the statutory powers of constables for this purpose, but who also liaise with the local police forces. Prosecutions for breaches of the bye-laws are undertaken by the Corporation.

4. Bye-laws have, however, come to be regarded as a relatively out-moded and inconvenient tool for preventing anti-social behaviour. They are enforceable only by way of full legal proceedings in the magistrates’ courts, and breaches are generally punishable only with small fines (often laid down many years ago) which are very cumbersome to amend. Even where the fines which may be awarded are not minimal, penalties imposed by the courts for bye-law offences are frequently derisory.

5. Statutory orders of the sort devised by governments in recent years provide a more modern means of tackling anti-social behaviour and nuisances. Such orders can be used flexibly to respond to particular problems as and when they arise, and breaches can be punished with a fixed penalty notice, or (if prosecution is preferred) with a fine which increases over time in accordance with the standard scales applicable to criminal offences.

6. The Home Office White Paper which preceded the Bill (‘Putting victims first: More effective responses to anti-social behaviour’, May 2012) indicated that the new public spaces protection order (then referred to as a ‘community protection order (open space)’) was intended to operate in place of traditional local authority bye-laws for good rule and governance: see paragraph 3.25. It would seem appropriate that the same powers should be available where Parliament has conferred the ability to make bye-laws governing a public space on a body which is not the local authority.

7. A similar argument prevailed in Part 6 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. That Act introduced dog control orders, which can be used to prohibit various anti-social activities involving dogs in public places, and which operate in place of local bye-laws covering the same subject-matter. The power to make dog control orders rests primarily with local authorities. However, the Act also provides for other bodies which have statutory powers of regulation over land to be designated as ‘secondary authorities’, which are able to make dog control orders where the local authority for the area has not done so. The City Corporation has been designated as a secondary authority under these provisions.

8. It is the City Corporation’s view that the same considerations justify permitting the statutory custodians of public open spaces to make public spaces protection orders in relation to anti-social behaviour on their land. Such orders would only cover matters which the custodian would otherwise be able to control by way of bye-law, but would enable a more responsive and flexible approach to different sorts of behaviour, as well as a more modern and effective means of enforcement. This would be in the public interest.

9. Such an approach would seem justified as a matter of legal principle, and would also have practical attractions. As described above, the Corporation governs the open spaces under its control whereas the local authorities have no direct involvement, and the Corporation is therefore in a position to take a more active role in tackling matters of local concern. It would be of considerable advantage to the City Corporation to be able to exercise a modern range of powers to tackle anti-social behaviour in its open spaces, without the need to make additional calls on the resources of hard-pressed local authorities.

10. Furthermore, some of the City Corporation’s larger spaces traverse several local authority boundaries. The practical consequence of having a patchwork of public spaces protection orders covering a single open space would be to introduce uncertainties in enforcement, with the possibility of legal arguments over whether or not an offence took place within the area covered by a particular local authority where the location concerned was close to a boundary. This eventuality could be avoided if the whole area could be covered by a single order made by the City Corporation.

11. The City Corporation will therefore be seeking to persuade the Government to introduce provisions to allow statutory custodians of public open spaces to share in the new powers to protect public places from those who engage in anti-social behaviour. The Corporation hopes that the members of the Public Bill Committee will be supportive of such a step. 

June 2013

Prepared 28th June 2013