The UK Government is about to pass legislation which will make any behaviour perceived to potentially ‘cause nuisance or annoyance’ a criminal offence. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill also grants local authorities, police and even private security firms sweeping powers to bar citizens from assembling lawfully in public spaces [PDF]. Those who refuse orders under the new rules will face arrest, fines and even prison time.
Essentially, this measure parlays off ASBOs: these were always problematic from a civil liberties point of view (and many of us liberal bloggers ranted about it at the time) since they enabled people to be criminalised by the back door—for things that weren't, actually, specifically illegal. Further, if you breached your ASBO, you could potentially be imprisoned—and for terms that would normally trigger a jury trial.
But the replacements for ASBOs go much, much further.
The Bill introduces Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAS) to replace ABSO’S. Almost no one will be sad to say goodbye to ASBO’s. The orders, designed to allow police to tackle anti-social behaviour, simply became a means of criminalising youthful indiscretion – and eventually a means of criminalising anything people found annoying.
The ASBO has allowed the line between criminal behaviour and annoying behaviour to become hopelessly blurred–and the IPNAs will only serve to increase the problem. We have seen the abuses permitted under ASBO legislation, the test for which included wording to the effect that ASBOs could only be issued where an actual act of 'harassment, alarm or distress' had occurred. IPNAs have a much weaker test, applicable where on the ‘balance of probabilities’ a person has or might engage in behaviour 'capable of causing annoyance' to another person. How many times a day could this legislation apply to any of us? Eating with our mouths open, talking too loudly into our phones in a public space, walking too slowly or quickly or belching without saying ‘pardon me’. All of this may very well cause annoyance–but soon it might well also be illegal.
The orders can be issued to anyone aged 10 or over (and we all know how well 10 year olds are at being annoying), and there is no limit on how long an IPNA can be applied to a person for. A person could receive an IPNA aged 10 and retain it their entire life.
You might think that these IPNAs were bad enough, but that is only part of the exciting new measures being introduced by the fascists now running this country.
Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs), and new Dispersal Orders will replace Designated Public Space Orders, Dog Control Orders, Gating Orders and a host of other orders intended to keep aggressive drunken people, or drug dealers or dog poo off of our streets. But it is plain that the target for these laws is no longer the person peddling illegal drugs, but the people sharing politically challenging ideas.
As the my impoverished Greek friend, Mr Eugenides, might have said (were he still blogging at home), "what fresh hell is this?"
Public Space Protection Orders
PSPOs will be granted where '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' [PDF] (p21). They can be used to restrict an activity or require people to perform an activity in a certain way [PDF]. They require substantially less consultation [PDF] than current alcohol free zones or dog control zones and rather than applying to everyone, they can be applied to specific groups of people [PDF] (the homeless, the unemployed, racial/religious groups etc.)–opening the door for discrimination. These rules could see homeless people or young people lawfully excluded from public spaces.
PSPOs are subject to 'on the spot' fines, rather than attendance at a Magistrates Court [PDF], reducing the scrutiny and checks on police power.
These orders are also by no means short term. They can be applied for up to three years, and continued for another three years at the end of their term [PDF].
You might have thought that all of the above was scary enough—but no...
Under the current Direction to Leave powers, anyone over 10 years of age can be asked to disperse from a ‘locality’ and stay dispersed for a period not exceeding 48 hours. Current Dispersal Orders mean a Police Superintendent (or an officer with specific written authority from the SI) can disperse groups of two or more people in areas where there has been ‘persistent anti-social behaviour’ or take home any young person under the age of 16 who is in a dispersal zone between 9pm and 6am. Anyone failing to comply with a Dispersal Order faces a fine of up to £2,500 or up to three months in prison.
Our beloved government, alas, obviously feels that these draconian measures simply are not totalitarian enough...
The new Dispersal Powers mean police constables and even Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) can issue dispersal orders if they think a group of two or more persons might harass, alarm or distress others in the vicinity [PDF] (p16). The PCSO or constable can specify how long the person/group must remain out of the designated area, and by which route they must leave, and also confiscate any items of their property which they deem anti-social. Failure to comply with any element of these orders results in a fine of up to £5,000 or three months in prison. The new legislation also fails to define 'locality'–meaning a person could be excluded from a city, a county or even a whole country [PDF] (p17). In fact, York couldn’t even wait for the new legislation to pass and is already implementing the powers.
These new laws effectively end freedom of assembly in England and Wales, as any lawful assembly can be instantly redefined as illegal on the spot by some part time PCSO, people’s personal possessions can be confiscated, and anyone who dares to challenge the process will end up in jail. [Emphasis mine]
If true, these new measures signal the death of the rule of law, the end of the principle of proportionate punishment and the final expiration of liberty in this country.
There are still some people who claim that the Coalition are more "libertarian" than NuLabour: this legislation hammers the final nail into the coffin of that particular delusion.
Still, at least our glorious government can claim that they are on the side of the angels: after all, that nice Mister Obama and his merry men in the US government are busy raping the freedoms of our cousins over the Pond too.
So I have some great news folks! The Republicans and the Democrats in Congress and the White House FINALLY came together and agreed on something. This is HUGE. These guys disagree on EVERYTHING! Getting them to see eye-to-eye is like getting the Jews and the Palestinians to do a trust fall together. Or getting Eskimos and polar bears to play Jenga.
I'm referring to the bill H.R. 347 that was signed by President Obama the other day, passed unanimously in the Senate, and 388-3 in the House. That's nearly EVERY SINGLE lawmaker.
What did this magical universally-loved bill say? Well some are calling it the anti-Occupy law and it allows the government to bring charges against Americans involved in many kinds of political protest at any location the secret service, quote, "is or will be temporarily visiting." So basically if the government wants to shut down a protest, they just send a secret service officer down there to scratch his balls, and then they can start putting people in jail for a year or more.
Of course, as Lee Camp points out, this legislation is contrary to the US Constitution—but the bastards passed it anyway.
But the bill doesn't stop there. I mean, when you have the entirety of Congress with the exception of Ron Paul agreeing on something, why not swing for the fences? The bill also says it could be a federal crime to protest near an event of, quote, "national significance." Well, that's not vague at all.
So, it seems that our delightful Coalition—the one that promised to restore our rights, shrink the nanny state, and give more responsibility to the people—is in good company with the idiots in the good ol' US of A. I have to say that my response to all of this accords remarkably well with Lee Camp's own reaction.
Well, Congress gets to stomp on the Bill of Rights, I want to do it too. I want to bring back cruel and unusual punishment, and then we could demand that every man or woman who voted for the Anti-Protest Law or signed it from the Oval Office be tied up in the town square naked for a week while everyone gets to throw fire ants and bumble bees at their naughty parts. Deal??
And after that, of course, we should hang them all.
I would suggest that we actually protest against these disgustingly fascists measures but I'm too pretty for prison...