How to criminalise virtually everyone

 

I had not heard of the Manifesto Club until today, when the BBC Today programme featured their report into Public Space Protection Orders (1 hour 21 minutes in).

On their website they claim:

The Manifesto Club campaigns against the hyperregulation of everyday life. We support free movement across borders, free expression and free association. We challenge booze bans, photo bans, vetting and speech codes – all new ways in which the state regulates everyday life on the streets, in workplaces and in our private lives.

We believe that the freedom issues of the twenty-first century cut across old political boundaries, and require new schools of political thought, and new methods of campaigning and organisation.

Our membership hails from all political traditions and none, and from all corners of the world.

Back to Public Space Protection Orders: last month the Manifesto Club published a report called PSPOs: A busybodies’ charter. These are orders that local councils have been allowed to enact over the last year or so under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, with minimal consultation. Indeed 79 local authorities have already done so, usually because they want to reduce anti-social behaviour. But the impact of these orders sometimes goes far beyond the intended targets and can seriously curb the human rights of citizens.

The report highlights some bizarre laws, revealed under a Freedom of Information request. For example, it is a criminal (note, actually criminal) offence to:

  • go out after 11pm on your own if you are under 18 in Kettering
  • loiter or be in a group of more than 4 people in the vicinity of a motor vehicle, also in Kettering
  • loiter and gather in groups of two or more persons in one area in Hillingdon (unless waiting for a bus)
  • shout in Guildford
  • park outside a primary school in Havering
  • remain in a public toilet without reasonable excuse in Oxford
  • carry a golf bag in North East Derbyshire
  • use noisy remote controlled vehicles in Hillingdon
  • cover the face in Sefton, Halton and Birmingham
  • engage in pavement art in Swindon
  • be in a camping vehicle in areas of Luton or Wolverhampton
  • stand or wait around without apparent purpose in Blackpool.

You couldn’t make them up…

Some councils have banned busking and street entertainers, perhaps not aware that busking is licensed and encouraged on London Underground partly because it makes travellers feel safer.

Of course, some of the orders have been quite sensible, such as requiring dog owners in Kingston and Ashfield to clear up dog mess, or banning aggressive charity collectors in Swindon.

But as the report says:

Some of the council reports justifying the introduction of a PSPO include statistics from the police regarding the number of assaults or acts of criminal damage in the area. But then the PSPO will criminalise actions such as ‘loitering’ or ‘congregating in a group’, which in themselves bear no relation to a criminal act. Rather that enforce the criminal law they are creating a second, broader, pseudo-crime, which essentially allows the police to move anyone out of the area on the suspicion that they might do something wrong later on.

The Today programme wheeled in Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council, and Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer, Stronger Communities Board, to defend the orders. He suggested that we should distinguish between the law and how it is applied – a slippery slope argument if ever there was.

It is also worrying that some Public Space Preservation Orders have not been open to public debate. Indeed in 27 councils a council officer has authorised an order, without any democratic oversight.

It is up to all of us to check whether our local council has created, or is planning to create, any Public Space Protection Orders, and whether they erode civil liberties.

* Mary Reid is the Monday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.

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6 Comments

  • nigel hunter 29th Feb '16 - 11:11pm

    How far will these laws go? Will there come a time when a council will say you have to walk all in one direction on one side of the street and the opposite direction on the other side to encourage harmony or you will be breaking the law? A slow diminution of peoples freedom to be a human individual.

  • I think, as you say, there are some legitimate uses of PSPOs – say where gangs are occupying some corner and intimidating passers by – but they have to be proportionate and there must be a proper process.

  • Move along there, move along.
    The police have always had power to move people along under the Highways Act.
    In fact there are plenty of existing laws to control people.
    Over active local politicians seems to be the problem.

  • Matt (Bristol) 1st Mar '16 - 1:39pm

    Joe,

    I think to work these sorts of things need to be sparing, tightly localised, specific, and time-limited, so they can be reviewed.

    I don’t see the cases Mary presents meeting any of those tests, on the headline, at least.

  • Stephen Booth 1st Mar '16 - 1:44pm

    Can someone explain how it is possible for council officers to impose PSPOs without democratic oversight? If true, we need to campaign to change it.

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