Online Briefing: PSPOs criminalising youth activities

pavement injustice As the summer holidays approach, young people’s activities in public spaces are being restricted by a series of new council laws.

Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) – which give councils powers to ban activities which have a ‘detrimental effect’ on the ‘quality of life’ – are increasingly being used to target youth activities such as skateboarding, swimming, or even gathering in groups.

Each PSPO creates new criminal offences, which can be punished by an on-the-spot fine of up to £100, or a fine upon conviction of up to £1000. This means that in several areas young people can now be fined or prosecuted for the offence of standing in a group, and gain a criminal record as a result.

These PSPOs include:

Bassetlaw District Council has created a PSPO covering an area in Worksop, which came into force on 18 May. The order prohibits: 'under 16-year olds (who are not under the effective control of a parent or are responsible person aged 18 or over) gathering in groups of three or more'. The order also prohibits 'shouting, swearing or acting in a manner as to cause annoyance, harassment, alarm or distress to any person'. See the council's outline of the PSPO, and local news coverage when the PSPO was enacted.

Campaigners told to get insurance to hand out leaflets in Woking

The Manifesto Club is supporting members of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, who have been prevented from handing out leaflets in Woking Town Centre.

They were told that they must gain prior approval from the council, and submit the leaflets they wish to distribute.

They were also told that they must get public liability insurance before distributing leaflets.

Both of these requests are based on the council's Public Realm Usage Policy. Both are also entirely unjustified, and have no legal basis.

Members of the group wrote a letter to Woking News, outlining their position (see the letter here).

Briefing Document - Dispersal Powers

PSPOs image New anti-social behaviour powers are criminalising people merely for being in a public space.

From 20 October 2014, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act gave police new 'dispersal powers' to bar individuals from public spaces if they think a person's behaviour could cause 'harassment, alarm or distress'.

A new Manifesto Club briefing document - published on Wednesday 17 June - shows that police forces across the country are using the new dispersal powers in a pre-emptive and unjust manner.

Police forces declared dispersal zones in response to a wide variety of public gatherings, including 'Christmas lights switch on', 'bonfire night' and 'student night', and in response to 'nuisance vehicles' and 'begging'.

Birmingham to ban microphones in the city centre

If this PSPO goes though it will be a crime to protest with megaphones in Birmingham city centre.

It will also be a crime to play violin, acoustic guitar or flute with amplification.

That is, the city centre - including the law courts, police station, and council house - will be an area within which amplification of all kinds is prohibited.

The council says it has been 'inundated' with complaints about noise: I would like to know how many complaints they have received.

PSPO news: Bans on skateboarding, loitering, remote control cars, pigeon feeding

Councils have brought in a series of PSPOs since our March briefing.

Some of these orders target activities that are already crimes - such as urinating and defecating in public - which is likely to be an issue of being able to punish with spot-fines rather than court.

Others include specific activities - remote control cars, skateboarding - regardless of whether these are causing a problem.

Campaign Against Outdoor Smoking Bans

PSPOs image There are growing moves to ban smoking in outdoor areas, including playgrounds, parks, public squares, and outside buildings such as hospitals or schools. Some of these bans are led by councils, others by health authorities or private owners.

Outdoor smoking bans are rarely justified on health grounds, since smoking outdoors presents no harm to anyone aside from the smoker themselves. Instead, restrictions generally aim to 'denormalise smoking', to reduce children's 'exposure to smoking behaviours' or to pressure smokers to give up.

Campaign Against Cultural Boycotts

PSPOs image There are growing calls for boycotts of artistic endeavors – including performance art installations, visual artist exhibitions, performing arts groups, erotic movies, exhibitions and art biennials.

The boycott, as a public declaration of not attending an ‘offensive’ exhibition, festival or film, has led to cancellations of art events and disturbances at live performances. The result is the censorship of artists, and the shutting down of public access to art and cultural events.

Briefing, 30 March 2015: How have councils used PSPO powers?

PSPOs image The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act went live on 20 October.

This included 'public spaces protection orders', which allow councils to ban any activity which they judge to have a 'detrimental effect' on the 'quality of life' of an area.

A Manifesto Club report last autumn outlined the problems with these open-ended powers, and predicted that powers would be used to ban activities such as rough sleeping, ball games and 'inappropriate dress'.

This is a 5-month review of how councils have used these powers.


Oxford City Council has passed a PSPO prohibiting people under the age of 21 from entering a tower block, unless they are legally resident in the block or visiting a legal resident.

Cambridge City Council passed a ban on 'open containers' of alcohol. The order goes against statutory guidance for the Act, which states that alcohol cannot be prohibited outright, and so appears to be illegal: see our commentary on this.

New protections for leafleteers from heavy-handed laws

leaflet campaign image The Manifesto Club Campaign Against Leafleting Bans has achieved significant protections for small groups and events, in new statutory guidance published today by Defra.

In our report, Leafleting – A liberty lost? we showed how large numbers of city centres were now leafleting zones, within which people needed to buy a council licence to hand out leaflets.

We supported Lib Dem peer Tim Clement-Jones’ private members bill for the deregulation of leafleting, which would have exempted small cultural and community events from the requirement to buy a licence.

Defra didn’t support the bill, but did recognise that there was a problem, and today has published new guidance for councils, introducing certain important protections for leafleteers.

These protections include:

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