Categorized | Civil Liberties

Injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance

Injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance

In the past seven years this column has regularly banged on about the erosion of civil liberties in this country.

The Labour administration was truly dreadful in this respect. They weakened the principle of presumption of innocence and right to trial by a jury with the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. The right to silence was eroded by the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. Freedom to communicate in private was effectively extinguished by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Under the Identity Cards Act 2006 and the Children Act 2004 a record of all the important transactions in a persons life would be created by electronic verification. The rights to freedom of assembly and demonstration were eroded by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. And so on.

When the coalition came in they made a refreshing start by throwing out some of Labour’s worst excesses. But then the realities of government kicked in and with it a radical change of direction, including proposals to modernise the capability of the police and security services to track internet and mobile phone use. They are just as bad as the last lot. Britain leads the world in the use of CCTV and has a larger DNA base and more police powers and email snooping than any comparable liberal democracy. Abuse of stop and search remains unchecked. Secret hearings, known as closed material procedures (CMPs), have been introduced into the main civil courts in England and Wales. And, again, so on.

Now we have the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill which reached report stage in the Lords on Wednesday. This bill would permit injunctions against anyone of 10 or older who “has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.” It would replace asbos with ipnas (injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance), which would not only forbid certain forms of behaviour, but also force the recipient to discharge positive obligations.
While, as a result of a successful legal challenge, asbos can be granted only if a court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that antisocial behaviour took place, ipnas can be granted on the balance of probabilities. Breaching them will not be classed as a criminal offence, but can still carry a custodial sentence without committing a crime.

In the Lords debate Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) said: “Whoever thought up (this proposal) and managed to slip it under the radar of the other place is a strong contender for some kind of award. Perhaps it should be a citation for attempting to increase the power of the state to interfere in people’s lives; perhaps a golden globe for providing the authorities with a new and easy-to-discharge weapon in the war against inconvenient and annoying expressions of dissent; or perhaps even an Oscar for thinking up a way to take out those who are a nuisance or annoyance in any one of a thousand unspecified ways – and doing it in a manner that admits virtually no defence or safeguard and that requires the minimum of evidence.”

The new injunctions create a system in which the authorities can prevent anyone from doing more or less anything. Lord Macdonald, formerly the director of public prosecutions, said: “It is difficult to imagine a broader concept than causing ‘nuisance’ or ‘annoyance’. The phrase is apt to catch a vast range of everyday behaviours to an extent that may have serious implications for the rule of law.” Protesters, buskers, preachers, all, he argues, could end up with ipnas.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con) said: “One of our fundamental freedoms is the freedom of speech. Surely it is clear that in exercising that freedom, one may annoy one or more other people.” As Baroness Hamwee (LD) said: “I can say that frequently and over decades I have been annoyed and alarmed and distressed by Manchester City” – though probably not this season.

We are stuck with an almost unanimously illiberal legislature. King John would be green with envy considering how much he had to concede at Runnymede.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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