Anti-Social Behaviour

“Consider whether the new procedures relating to anti-social behaviour in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill of 2003 might be open to challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights? ” There is no doubt that for a society to function equitably a certain degree of restraining “anti-social behaviour” through anti-social behaviour orders is necessary. What however is an anti-social behaviour? Introduced by section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, they are “civil orders that exist to protect the public from behaviour that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress” (see research memorandum #1).

The orders prohibit the offender from anti-social acts but they are not criminal penalties or punishments. One recent case entailing the use of anti-social behaviours in Britain is a case involving a teenager named David Young. His anti-social behaviour which involved (as he himself described it) “I’ve nicked cars, I’ve robbed about three houses in my whole life and that’s about it isn’t it? ” (research memorandum #3) earned him a banning order from his neighbourhood for the next 10 years, reduced to 5 years by appeal.

He also faced the risk of a 5 year imprisonment if he stepped back into his exclusion zone. It is through this case that I will attempt to show one way of how the new procedures in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill of 2003 might indeed be open to challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights. The first point to mention is that what brought the anti-social behaviour order against David was a series of complaints from neighbours, complaints which were anonymous.

Referring now to human rights legislation, this may be contravened by the action brought against him because of the use of hearsay evidence (anonymous accusations); after all section of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights says that “everyone charges with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty”. Could it not follow then, that anonymous hearsay evidence is not enough to prove anyone guilty?

What is more, the “naming and shaming” (research memorandum #3), as David’s lawyer put it, by the newspapers of the youngster could have certain drawbacks too. It is possible that forcing such a young person into such exile could create future psychological problems, or increase the likeliness of repeated similar crimes or could deprive him of the equal opportunity every human being has to work; the odds of an employer accepting David as an employee in the future are limited by the excessive punishment.

It can also be argued that the new procedures under the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill of 2003 can contradict Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which says that “everyone has the right to respect for his private family life, his home and his correspondence”. This can occur because in the court proceedings for such measures to be brought about it is common for wide-ranging evidence as to an individual’s background and family circumstances are often addressed.

Hence as the National Council for Civil Liberties (human rights organisation) argues, “the orders themselves and the means by which they are imposed constitute substantial interferences with the right to privacy and family life” (research memorandum #4). No one could say that for children’s behaviour to be out of control benefits children, families or communities, however, there are appears to be a defeatist attitude reflected in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill’s focus on containment rather than on prevention.

It is surely essential to focus efforts on providing young people with the support and resources that will help divert them from the kind of behaviour that benefits no-one. It can also be argued however, that politicians, the press and media have focused too much on young people as the cause of anti-social behaviour. The result is that people have more hostility and fear of young people without evidence supporting that fear.

Such a sustained high profile initiative on anti-social behaviour may generate a situation whereby public authorities, such as the police, and communities generally focus only on the activities of children and young people. This is contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights which says that “the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race,…. or other status”. However, it is not rational to argue that the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill is unnecessary in today’s society.

In fact, there are many aspects of the Bill which can be said to be airtight and incapable of challenging the European Convention on Human Rights. On the whole, the implementation of an anti-social behaviour order on a person who has indeed behaved in such manner will single out this individual, and will take the appropriate measures accordingly. The effectiveness of anti-social behaviour orders can possibly be seen from the fact that the prison population is now at its highest ever level. On June 20, 2003 there were 73,478 people in jail in England and Wales, up by some 13,000 since Labour came to power.

We now have the highest imprisonment rate in the European Union (research memorandum #2). In conclusion however, the use of anti-social behaviour orders is cause for much controversy and debate in the political sphere of the country. It is said that there is a need for more custodial sentences to be passed to people who have committed less serious crimes such as the non-payment of fines and persistent anti-social offenders need to be detained rather than issued anti-social behaviour orders which simply move them to another region.

We are granted our human rights without any questions, but to violate and abuse these rights by breaking into a house for example, we will lose rights in return, but for a pre-defined period we will know that we will not be imprisoned. problem with anti-social behaviour orders is that they are an arbitrary removal of civil liberties. People are losing the right to go to certain areas, losing the right to say certain things and losing the right to wear certain clothes.

The whole culture of anti-social behaviour orders is leading to a tabloid-style attitude to crime and punishment. There is no question that the type of people anti-social behaviour orders are used against cause great problems for the communities they live in, and that something has to be to stop them but to continue to violate human rights by practically exiling people from their homes, banning entry to certain areas, and intruding in their private lives and family environments is most certainly not the most equitable and just method of acting on the issue.

Research Memorandum http://news.bbc.co.uk/

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