Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written Evidence from Play England (ASB 54)

About Play England

Play England is the national organisation for children’s play. An independent charity, we are hosted by the National Children’s Bureau. We hold Cabinet Office and Department of Health contracts to deliver play programmes as part of Government policy on social action and public health related to children and young people.

Our vision is for England to be a country where everybody can fully enjoy their right to play throughout their childhood and teenage years, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) .

O ur aims are to ensure that:

· All children and young people have the freedom - time, space, permission and opportunity - to play throughout their childhood and teenage years;

· All residential neighbourhoods are child friendly places where children and young people can regularly play outside; and

· Everyone is aware of the importance of play – outdoors and indoors – as part of children and young people’s daily lives.

SUMMARY

Play England believes that the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill raises significant human rights issues. There are likely to be unintentional consequences as the normal everyday freedoms to play outdoors that children have enjoyed for generations could bring them into conflict with civil and criminal law.

We are particularly concerned about these aspects of the Bill:

· Change of the definition of ASB to ‘behaviour capable of causing nuisance and annoyance’

· Lowering of the criminal standard of proof test of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to the civil standard of ‘the balance of probabilities’

· Custody as a sanction for children breaching the new orders

· Potential conflict with the States Parties obligations under the UNCRC, which are binding under international law

· Potential conflict with other areas of Government policy on social action in the community and public health and well-being through active outdoor play

· Likely failure to meet the Government’s own ‘reasonable, proportionate and effective’ test.

1. Definition of anti-social behaviour (clause 1)

The proposed lowering of the current threshold of causing ‘harassment, alarm and distress’ to ‘conduct capable of causing nuisance and annoyance’ is disproportionate in our view. No harm, nuisance or annoyance has to have actually occurred to trigger the injunction.

It is likely to lead to children as young as ten having restrictions put on their liberty for a wide range of normal behaviour that most children and families would not consider to be a civil wrong.

Alongside the proposed lower civil standard ‘balance of probabilities’ rather than the current ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ criminal standard test as the burden of proof there is the potential to bring normal everyday children’s play into the civil and criminal justice system.

Taken together, these proposals are likely to have a particularly detrimental effect on children’s freedom to play with friends in their neighbourhoods. This runs counter to Government policy on social action to build communities and the Chief Medical Officers’ recommendations that much more ‘unstructured, active and energetic play’ is needed ti improve children and young people’s physical and mental health and well-being.

T he A ssociation of Chief Police Officers have already warned that the new threshold s risk being too subjective and could unnecessarily criminalise children. A letter to the same effect signed by 50 professionals from the play, environment and academic sectors was published in the Times on 16 June 2013.

We fully accept that genuine anti-social behaviour by a minority of the most troubled families needs to be tackled , and we welcome the Government commitment to do more to support these families .

But we believe that these measures are not fully thought-through and are likely to dilute the focus on the core problems by disproportionately bringing perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour into the net .

2. Potential breaches of international law

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is legally binding on States Parties and these proposals will potentially put the Government in breach of:

· Article 3 - the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration

· Article 15 - freedom of association and peaceful assembly

· Article 31 - the right of the child to engage in play and recreation

· Article 37 - the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child should be used only as a last resort

· Article 40 - no child shall be alleged as, be accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law by reason of acts or omissions that were not prohibited by national or international law at the time they were committed

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has published a General C omment 17 which calls on States Parties to strengthen protection for children’s rights under Article 31 and places it firmly within the context of other children’s rights.

We call for Clause 1 to be amended to restore the ‘harassment, alarm and distress’ and ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ thresholds.

July 2013

Prepared 17th July 2013