As Published in The Guardian:
New asbo threat to carol singers is ‘complete nonsense’, says minister
The Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, Norman Baker, has rejected as “complete nonsense” claims that carol singers and charity collectors could be banned as a result of the government’s new civil injunctions that will replace antisocial behaviour orders (asbos).
He has told campaigners that councils would have to go to court to get the new anti-annoyance orders, which are civil injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance – known as Ipnas – if they wanted to ban carol singers, bell-ringers or charity collectors. “It is utter nonsense to suggest carol singers and street preachers might be hauled before the courts because of the proposed injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance,” said Baker.
He told the Guardian he was willing to meet campaigners to discuss the “nuisance and annoyance test” in the new injunctions, but they had been used successfully since 1996 in housing legislation to deal with noisy neighbours and other forms of antisocial behaviour.
“The injunction has robust safeguards in place, and organisations will have to prove to a court both that the behaviour they are concerned about is genuinely antisocial in nature, and how the order will stop such behaviour. If they cannot, no order will be granted. I cannot think of a court in the land that is going to accept that carol singers meet these tests,” said Baker, the minister for crime prevention.
“The tests to meet the injunction are used daily by the courts and frontline professionals as part of existing housing and antisocial behaviour legislation. If those with concerns want me to discuss this further, I am happy to do so.”
His reassurance follows the launch of a new campaign group that includes Lord Macdonald, who is a former director of public prosecutions (DPP), Conservative MP David Davis, who was shadow home secretary during the Labour government, Peter Tatchell, and organisations such as Big Brother Watch, the Christian Institute and the National Secular Society.
The group claims that the measure in clause 1 of the government’s antisocial behaviour, crime and policing bill now going through the House of Lords is so sweeping in its scope that it could be used to stifle many forms of protest on the grounds that they might cause annoyance and nuisance to others.
Macdonald has claimed that the powers could be used against “a busker outside a shopping centre, or a street preacher proclaiming the end of days to passersby, who may all be capable of causing nuisance and annoyance to some person.
“Of course political demonstrations, street performers and corner preachers may be annoying to some. They may even, from time to time, be a nuisance. The danger in this bill is that it potentially empowers state interference against such activities in the face of shockingly low safeguards,” the former DPP said earlier this month.
The new campaign, called Reform Clause 1 – Feel Free to Annoy Me, claims the anti-annoyance orders could be used against 10-year-olds playing football in a park, carol singers, charity collectors and Sunday morning bellringers, and could be used to silence political activists such as Tatchell or anti-Scientology protesters.
They claim it will be used instead of section 5 of the Public Order Act, which was reformed after complaints that it was penalising legitimate protests.
But Baker said the courts would not entertain such frivolous uses of the orders, saying they would have a duty to ensure the injunctions were fair and proportionate.
Ministers said the courts were used to using the judicial nuisance and annoyance test, which is also used in cases involving those who obstruct the road or abuse alcohol in public.
Baker said the new Ipnas would enable councils and others to take swift action to protect victims and communities from more serious harm developing.
The decision to introduce Ipnas to replace asbos follows criticism over their high breach rates and evidence that they became a so-called badge of honour for some young offenders. Unlike an asbo, the new Ipnas will not result in a criminal record if breached. They will impose requirements or bans to deal with the underlying causes of the problem.
These could include attending an alcohol or drug misuse course, a dog-training course for an irresponsible dog owner or being banned from being drunk in a public place or carrying a can of spray paint in a public place.