Norman Baker writes… “We’re not turning into authoritarians!”

Today the Independent published a story about the Coalition Government’s plans to reform anti-social behaviour legislation.  I know that many Lib Dems may well be concerned by the story. Indeed, if it were true I would be worried! But it is not. It is utter nonsense to suggest we are targeting skateboarders, ramblers, youngsters playing in their local park, or anyone else going about their daily lives perfectly reasonably.

In reality the new anti-social behaviour powers are designed to protect such activities. Rather, the power is designed to stop problem drinking, aggressive begging, dog fouling – any behaviour that spoils the rights of people to walk or play locally without fear of yobs. What’s more, local authorities will need to consult ahead of putting an order in place and those affected will be able to appeal if they feel the order is not valid. Public consultation is vital because it gives people a say in what happens in their communities, it enables us to stop councils overstepping the mark, and it means we can react in different ways to different needs. We need to have a variety of approaches to deal with anti-social problems that are specific to each local area, and because of that we need powers with some degree of flexibility. Councillors in Leeds will be able to design an approach that deals with the specific problems in their city, just as councillors in Leicestershire will be able to help tackle anti-social behaviour in their own communities.

It has also been suggested that the Coalition plans to curtail rights to peaceful protest. This is also nonsense and nothing in the Bill does that. I have made it clear on the floor of the Commons that peaceful protest cannot be subject to a dispersal order and we do not believe that the public spaces protection order could be used in this way either, or to prevent wider peaceful protest, but in the light of the scare stories generated, I am looking at what further steps we might take to make this even clearer.

* Norman Baker is the MP for Lewes, a Minister of State at the Home Office and formerly Minister in the Department of Transport

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19 Comments

  • This post is just “trust me”. That approach does not work with the police, who routinely use their powers to harass the innocent (photographers). If you cannot be specific in the bill, then the bill must be discarded.

  • A Social Liberal 15th Nov '13 - 6:40pm

    Looks like another illiberal bill is going to pass into law

  • “I have made it clear on the floor of the Commons that peaceful protest cannot be subject to a dispersal order …”

    Unfortunately statements made in the House of Commons have no legal force. It needs to be made clear in the legislation.

  • A court may grant an injunction if it thinks “that the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person (“anti-social behaviour”).” And the injunction can stipulate just about any prohibitions or requirements the court fancies.

    For better or worse that is plainly a replacement of the rule of (predictable) law with arbitrary local power (as with ASBOs). I don’t like most uses of the term “postcode lottery” but that’s what we have here for all sorts of basic freedoms.

    It’s all well and good to protect the freedoms of those “going about their daily lives perfectly reasonably” but we should be aiming to protect the freedoms of non-conforming minorities: that’s the real test. For example, if the naked rambler is ever released from prison for breaching an ASBO, would he too be free under this bill to ramble and have confidence in the predictability and proportionality of UK law?

    The bill contains a number of different powers and I’m not sure which ones this post is referring to. But in the case of combating “nuisance or annoyance” local authorities will not necessarily have any involvement whatsoever and there is no requirement for any public consultation (correct me if I’m wrong).

  • If these new powers are not designed to disperse peaceful process then just add that specifically as an amendment to the Bill! Recent history has shown how loosely worded laws of this type can be exploited, look at how the anti-terrorism laws of the previous government have been used completely out of context.

  • Samuel McLaughlin 15th Nov '13 - 11:52pm

    “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied”.

  • Chrome diplomat 15th Nov '13 - 11:52pm

    Chris- under ‘Pepper v Hart’ a court can look at what is said by Ministers on the floor of the House to determine the intention of legislation. Therefore assurances from a Minister in this way do have significant legal force, albeit less that writing something into legislation. The problem is you can’t change legislation every time someone thinks up another possible interpritation- therefore ministerial assurances are often the best way to clarify the intention of a Bill.

  • Andy Boddington 16th Nov '13 - 7:39am

    Norman Baker says… “We’re not turning into authoritarians!” That’s wrong. We will be unless this Bill is amended.

    It sounds to like the government might at last be prepared to accept some amendments to this bill.

    So far ministers have taken the same attitude as they have taken over the Lobbying Bill, declaring that the protests are just scaremongering. They are not. Lib Dem Voice published extracts from a legal opinion on this Bill a few days ago that makes it clear that a wide range of activities can be ensnared if this bill becomes law :

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/the-independent-view-antisocial-behaviour-bill-a-new-legal-threat-to-public-protest-37173.html

    And they will be, as I made clear in my article back in July:

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-antisocial-behaviour-bill-set-to-restrict-public-protest-35316.html

    The loose wording of the legislation allows almost any public demonstration to be blocked. Councils will be able to shut down dissent at will.

    This is badly written, illiberal law.

  • Ian Hurdley 16th Nov '13 - 7:49am

    ASBOs were introduced to deal with specific types of antisocial behaviour which did not amount to a crime. It was drawn sufficiently broadly (for which read ‘imprecisely’) as to give local authorities and police flexibility in its application. It was soon being used as a convenient way of trying to sweep the homeless, the alcohol-addicted and those with mental health problems off the streets. I know this because I was a magistrate. In my court we were asked to ban a paranoid schizophrenic from calling the emergency services except in the case of a genuine emergency,. We were asked to make an order that a homeless alcoholic should not consume alcohol except on licensed premises, and should not be drunk in a public place. An Aperger’s sufferer was to be banned from using offensive language in public. All cases which were setting the person up to fail repeatedly, and face the prospect of a five year prison sentence. In the words of the saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  • @ chrome diplomat

    Thanks for that, I didn’t know that was the case. You learn something every day!

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Nov '13 - 9:52am

    I am glad that Liberal Democrats are tackling fear and intimidation. It is not only the Home Office and the police who take away civil liberties, but criminals and individuals too. Lib Dems need to be balanced in this area – there’s not many votes in the soft on crime garden.

  • The complacency of Norman Baker is breathtaking. History has shown time and again, that ill thought out legislation, WILL be misused.
    Let me put something to Norman Baker. Suppose I am incensed that some ‘miscreant’, keeps walking up my driveway and putting Focus leaflets through my door. To stop this nuisance caller I seek an injunction via the local authority under the new IPNA legislation.
    How does the local authority handle my request for an injunction? Does it create an injunction on that one person in regard to my address only,… all addresses in the borough,…. all Focus leafleteers across the whole of Lancashire. Where does the nuisance injunction end? Is it with LibDem leafleteers only, or Labour and Conservative pamphlet deliverers?
    Will the L.A. serve me an ASBO or an IPNA, for my continuous and frivolous, IPNA requests.?
    Injunctions coming soon on……, well, pretty much every activity, that someone, somewhere, deems to be a nuisance.
    Boy oh boy, is the public going to have some fun with this legislation! And the police and Local Authority are going to be run ragged with the backlog of injunction requests. And after Norman has chewed over all of that absurdity, what about the sheer cost of administrating this irrational law, for an already stretched Local Authority?
    (And, after this ridiculous proposed legislation, a previous thread asks the poignant question,.. What are our MP’s worth? !!!!)

  • I am also very worried about this Bill. Let’s not have another fiasco – get the amendments in earlier rather than later.

  • This is a quite astonishingly bad piece of legislation. I utterly fail to understand how a Coalition containing Lib Dem ministers can support something like this. It is wholly naïve to imagine that it won’t very soon be repurposed for supressing dissent. Powerful people will find it immensely useful; the language makes the law a weapon to use against the people. That is unacceptable.

  • Tony Greaves 17th Nov '13 - 12:23am

    Pepper v Hart does not apply to statements made by Ministers in LDV!

    There are a number of different things in the ASB parts of this Bill which are, well, different.. (It’s the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill).

    For instance, in Part 1 ASBOs will be abolished and replaced by IPNAs (Injunctions to prevent nuisance sand annoyance). (Annoyance?) In Part 2 Criminal ASBOs will be replaced by Criminal Behaviour Orders. Dispersal Powers are in Part 3 and are based on what exists now with some changes.

    In Part 4 here will be Community Protection Notices to deal with fairly low-level nuisances which inter alia replace various litter notices, etc but could be much more wide-ranging. Ther are also Public Spaces Protection Orders which I am personally most concerned with, which could restrict access to public spaces, even to rights of way, villages greens etc.

    There is a lot in these parts of the Bill which should be of great concern to Liberals. The Lords start debating these clauses in Committee on Monday, and again on Wednesday.

    Some of the stuff got a good going over in the Commons but large amounts of it did not..

    Tony

  • I’m very sympathetic to the aims of the policy if it can be shown as an effective tool for parish councils to help tackle the nuisance of illegal off-road driving. That is why it is helpful to keep the law broad. The problem is that broad powers can be abused without safeguards and there isn’t enough of them here, particularly if the Minister or Government changes.

    However, key safeguards must be placed in the face of the Bill. In particular, what is missing is some form of provision that prevents their use for any form of protest where the police have been notified and on balance of probabilities, any conditions are being complied with. I’m not convinced this measure will succeed to be passed without it.

    I’m quite concerned that ASBO 2.0 appears to be the kind of thing that was initially attempted to be introduced within law but was amended the first time asbo’s were brought in. It doesn’t seem right to use a bill for a second bite of the cherry. I hope our peers have long memories 🙂

  • “Chris- under ‘Pepper v Hart’ a court can look at what is said by Ministers on the floor of the House to determine the intention of legislation. Therefore assurances from a Minister in this way do have significant legal force, albeit less that writing something into legislation. The problem is you can’t change legislation every time someone thinks up another possible interpritation- therefore ministerial assurances are often the best way to clarify the intention of a Bill.”

    OK, but only when the legislation “is ambiguous or obscure or the literal meaning of which leads to an absurdity”. If Norman Baker is invoking this principle as a legal safeguard before the legislation is even passed, that implies that he acknowledges there is an ambiguity in the proposed wording. Clearly the principle is meant to apply only retrospectively when it is too late to amend the legislation and eliminate the ambiguity – not to act as a lazy excuse for sloppy drafting.

  • I find this blog post annoying! It is akin to dog fouling on a pavement! Orf with his ‘ead!!

    IPNA: Am I doing it right?

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