The ASBO ‘Badges of Honour’ Are to Be Removed!

Over the years since I have been writing articles for The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs, I have covered the topic of anti-social behaviour on a number of occasions. This is mainly down to the fact that this particular subject means so much to all of us; after all, it is a huge issue within many of our neighbourhoods, and there are high levels of frustration when it comes to how people feel local authorities, the police and the criminal justice system are dealing with such problems.

In short, and through personal experience in this exact area of law, I can honestly put my hand on my heart and state categorically that the problem of anti-social behaviour was not being dealt with in this country. In fact, when working as a housing law caseworker for Community Legal Services (through legal aid), I was always encouraged not to get too involved in anti-social behaviour cases and to close a case down as soon as possible. This I found to be very frustrating at times, especially when I had some clients who were at their wits’ end and had nowhere else to turn to for legal advice and advocacy.

Anti-social behaviour has become even more of a joke through the fact that the previous Labour government introduced what is known as ‘Anti-Social Behaviour Orders’ or ASBOs. As we all know, no juvenile delinquent would be worth his or her salt unless they were able to wear such a badge of honour with pride, and this could hardly have been the result that the previous administration was looking for in attempting to tackle this problem.

The present coalition government is now proposing to abolish ASBOs, plus a wide range of other confusing orders, in favour of creating new court orders and injunctions which will be easier to obtain and far simpler to understand. At present, there are nineteen powers connected with anti-social behaviour, and it is intended to reduce this number down to six.

The current system, whereby a local authority with the backing of the police must apply to a magistrates’ court and prove their case, the granting of the ASBO beyond reasonable doubt (the criminal law ‘burden of proof’ requirement) would often have proven to be difficult. In future, the new Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBOs) and Crime Prevention Injunctions (CPIs) will be granted through county courts and the burden of proof will be reduced to the civil law level – e.g., on the balance of probabilities.

Next, the breach of these orders and injunctions needs to be tackled far more stringently than they are under the current system. It may shock you to learn that more than half of all ASBOs are breached, and of these there is an average of four breaches. Although ASBOs are a civil law remedy, when an individual breaches the ASBO they can face a term of imprisonment. However, clearly this is not a sufficient deterrent at the moment or the police and court system are not imposing tough enough sanctions against such anti-social individuals.

The disturbing case of Fiona Pilkington, in Leicestershire, opened the eyes of the public to the growing problem with anti-social behaviour in our society. However, do not for one minute feel that this was an isolated case. I can assure you, again through my own personal experience, that the police were often lax or downright arbitrary in their handling of anti-social cases. It often appeared to me that the local police to a serial plaintiff would view this individual as a nuisance and in some cases they would even wrongly take the side of the person who was being complained about. No matter what happens in the future, this is something that needs to be addressed vigorously. The police are not there to make their own minds up about such matters; they should only ever deal with anti-social complaints seriously and look to provide a solution as expeditiously as possible.