Freedom Hotline's blog

How have councils used PSPO powers?

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 found that powers would be used to ban rough sleeping, ball games and 'inappropriate dress'. Here is a three-month review of how councils are using these powers...

Boston Council oversteps ASB powers

Boston Council has announced a ban on street drinking, with signs announcing that 'drinking alcohol or carrying it in any open container in this area is PROHIBITED'.

Yet these announcements misrepresent the powers provided in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. The powers to make 'public spaces protection orders' is extremely broad, but one of the few restrictions is a restriction on a complete ban on alcohol.

The Statutory Guidance accompanying the Act states clearly:

Lincoln Council bans 'intoxicating substances' in city centre

Lincoln city councillors have voted in favour of a ban on 'intoxicating substances'. The policy will go before the council’s executive committee for final ratification on 19 January.

The law is made under new powers contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, specifically the 'public spaces protection order' (PSPO) power, which allows local authorities to ban anything which has a 'detrimental effect' on the 'quality of life' of the locality.

New ASB powers of eviction: Our homes are no longer our own

A 22-year old has been evicted from her home in Plymouth, as police used the broad new powers of eviction contained within the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act.

The Plymouth Herald reports enthusiastically that new ASB powers mean that somebody can be evicted from their home and asked to leave 'within the hour', if police 'tell the court they reasonably believe that there is, or is likely soon to be, a public nuisance or there is disorder in the vicinity of the premises'.

Another council calls in the litter police

Another council - Gravesham Borough Council, in Kent - will contract a private company for the issuing of litter fines.

The Manifesto Club argues that the issuing of fines by private companies on commission can gravely distort the operations of justice and law enforcement (see our report The Corruption of Punishment).

There are several salient points in Gravesham Borough Council's report about the contract:

- There have only been 9 litter fines issued by council and police officers in 2014. This is likely to go up to two or three thousand once the company is contracted.

ASB powers used against motorist meet-ups

Colchester Council is planning a 'public spaces protection order' banning car enthusiasts from gathering in a retail park after 6pm.

This comes after gatherings of hundreds of cars, organised by the East Essex Cruisers. Yet significantly, when police visited previous gatherings, they found that people were 'not doing anything much'; they were looking at each other's cars, some revving their engines or playing music on the car radio. The only offence was the sale of burgers from vans without a licence.

From public services to CRASBOs

In a post on the New Observer, Justin Wyllie points out that new anti-social behaviour powers are often being used against the mentally ill or other marginalised groups. He says:

Oxford delegates power to make new ASB laws to SINGLE council officers

One of the big questions about the implementation of the new wide-ranging 'public space protection orders' (PSPOs) was how councils will decide to pass them.

PSPOs allow for the council to ban anything which it judges has a 'detrimental effect' on the 'quality of life' of an area. But there are no proceedural requirements about how officials might go about this - so one council might require a PSPO to pass through full council, which would provide a democratic check; while other authority might delegate the law-making power to a single council officer.

This latter possibility is obviously extremely worrying, but extremely likely, given the emphasis in the use of these powers in a 'speedy and flexible manner'.

The war on street drinkers

One of the main uses of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act has been a direct and concerted war on street drinkers.

Of course, street drinking has always been frowned upon by some, and for the past few years police have had powers to confiscate open containers of alcohol in certain areas (called 'Designated Public Spaces').

And yet, street drinking as such was not a crime: police were supposed to only use confiscation powers if a person was behaving in a disorderly manner. They often abused these powers, but there was some form of available challenge.

ASB dispersal powers: The crime of being found in a public place

One of the new powers in the wide-ranging Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (which came into force on 20 October) is the power to disperse groups or individuals.

These new dispersal powers are more draconian than the old dispersal powers (available section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and section 30 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003), in the following ways:

    - Areas do not have to be designated a dispersal zone in advance; a police inspector can on-the-spot designate any area a dispersal zone;

    - The new powers allow for the confiscation of property;

    - The new powers allow for somebody to be banned from an area for 48 hrs (rather than 24);

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