A piece of legislation that is going through Parliament is rather alarming. It has passed ‘committee stage’, meaning it’s close to becoming law.
It is all the closer, since no major media organisations have made a peep about it. And the Liberal Democrats haven’t complained, so presumably they are down with it. Either way, we failed to notice progress of the daunting Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
– The replacement of the ASBO will be harsher and easier for the authorities to serve
– The replacement of the Dispersal Order will be harsher, longer lasting and easier for the authorities to serve
– These, together with recent government moves (below) represent a genuine threat to UK freedoms, not least the right to protest and right to assembly
What’s in the bill?
The bill is massively wide, and its whole contents are not discussed here. The two most worrisome things are:
– Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs)
– Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs)
IPNAs will replace the Daily Mail’s old favourite, the ASBO (Anti Social Behaviour Order), which was widely abused by the authorities and often failed to do much good. The government’s justification is that the new law will simplify New Labour’s populist anti-chav measure, which admittedly was a clusterfuck of an instrument. This version, however, is worse. ASBOs could only be issued when a yob/hoodie/hoodlum had done something wrong – caused ‘harassment, alarm or distress’.
As Scriptonite Daily points out, IPNAs require only that you might ‘engage in behaviour capable of causing annoyance’. This is FEROCIOUSLY WIDE AND FUZZY.
Public Spaces Protection Orders
These are theoretically designed to stop people letting their dogs shit everywhere or to keep loud drunks off quiet streets. But PSPOs suffer from the same hopelessly wide scope as IPNAs. They can pop up, pre-emptively, to halt ‘activities carried on or likely to be carried on in a public place will have or have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’ [Clause 55, 2., a-b].
PSPOs can apply for three years, then be renewed, and renewed, and renewed. According to The Manifesto Club, PSPOs will be easier to serve than current alcohol protection zones, and can be legally targeted at specific groups (e.g. ethnicities, protesters, horse racing enthusiasts). If you breach a PSPO you are subject to an on-the-spot fine of up to £100 which could go up to £1,000 on conviction, plus £500 if booze is involved (Summary part 152).
What are the implications?
It’s pretty obvious that these powers would give the police and local authorities a terrifying power to disperse peaceful protest movements. Worse, the filth could ban you pre-emptively, effectively ruining your right to protest and your right to assembly.
This is especially shit in the light of two related developments. Edward Snowden’s data-spying leaks have shown us that the UK government, MI5 and the police have access to virtually all our internet use and history. And have the capacity to sift it all. And have the precedent to suggest they will abuse such a power. This means I’m pretty afraid of one or other arm of government spying on (legal) discussions of political protest or opposition, then banning the people or groups planning to take to the streets (legally).
I’m also worried by the general climate the government is setting in the past few months. If it isn’t the TEMPORA/SocMint spying revelations, or abuses against Steven Lawrence’s family and friends, then there’s:
– Racist Van and the Home Office’s Hunger Games style live-feed of migrant arrests and asylum denials
– Cameron’s Porn Crusade [My analysis and links here]
– The Tories’ attempts to make it virtually impossible to take employers to court
– Chris Grayling’s universally-panned smash and grab job on the criminal justice system…
– And legal aid…
– And appeals
– Pipeline legislation that will allow serious criminals to be kept in 5” x 5” cages, out in the open, with signs encouraging members of the public to masturbate or defecate onto them.
Better – write to your MP. Write to the MPs you think tend to stand for fluffy things like ‘justice’ and ’rights’ and ask what the fuck is going on. Ask why, in committee, the words ‘protest’ and ‘assembly’ did not come up. Ask whether this thundercunting debacle is possibly just an honest, massive oversight.
A longer version of this post was published here.
Jonathan is a writer and Civitas thinktank researcher.