Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs) have been heavily criticised by the children’s commissioner who say the same could prevent ball games, skateboarding and youths ‘hanging around’. New laws to clamp down on antisocial behaviour will "promote intolerance of youth" and damage the relationship between young people and the Police, the children's commissioner and leading organisations representing young people warn today.
In a letter to the Observer last weekend children's commissioner Dr Maggie Atkinson, together with other campaigners, has criticised the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill which is currently going through parliament.
The letter suggests that the proposed legislation dealing with unruly behavior will "punish children over the age of 10 simply for being children". The measures are widening the definition of antisocial behaviour and reducing the burden of proof so that the effect could be to "outlaw everyday activities" such as skateboarding or ball games.
The letter reads:"We acknowledge that antisocial behaviour can blight the lives of individuals and communities, but this bill is not the answer. It promotes intolerance of youth, is a blow for civil liberties and will damage children's relationship with the Police. Children learn the importance of right and wrong from their parents, teachers and communities. We do not need to create more laws to do it."
The Home Office argues that the measures will deliver speedier and more effective curbs on unruly activity. Under the proposals, antisocial behaviour orders (ASBOs) will be replaced by new Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs). The injunctions, together with other measures, are being introduced under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill and can be of an unlimited duration. Breach of such an injunction could result in two years imprisonment or an unlimited fine.
Whilst breach of an INPA is not itself a criminal penalty, the bill does allow courts to use similar powers in punishing breaches as a ‘criminal contempt of court’.
Currently, to be given an ASBO a person must have behaved in a way that "caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress". But under the new legislation, a person would have to have behaved only in a way that is "capable of causing nuisance or annoyance" to be given such an injunction.
Additionally, the burden of proof in relation to the orders has been altered. For a court to grant an ASBO, it must be satisfied to the criminal burden of proof e.g. "beyond reasonable doubt" that a person has behaved antisocially and conclude that an ASBO is necessary to protect others from further antisocial acts. However, in order to grant one of the new injunctions, the court would have to satisfy the civil burden of proof e.g. believe only that "on the balance of probabilities" a person had behaved antisocially and to conclude that it is "just and convenient" to grant an injunction to stop their antisocial behavior.
Critics of the new powers suggest that under the new legislation, if the police or local council believe that "on the balance of probabilities" a weekly football game is capable of irritating locals and that an injunction would be a way of stopping the game, they could ask the court to issue an injunction against those playing to stop the game.
Signatories to the letter, who also include the chief executive of the National Children's Bureau, Dr Hilary Emery, say that the measures are particularly unfortunate at a time when youth services are being cut.
Penelope Gibbs, chair of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, added:"It's hard to believe that the Government is planning to outlaw teenagers just for being annoying – unopposed by Labour. Many teenagers already feel they are pariahs in their communities. What are teenagers supposed to do? Youth services have been cut, they are told not to spend too much time indoors playing computer games. Yet this law means they may be afraid to skateboard on the street or just hang out with their friends."