Monday, May 23, 2005

The cruelty of ASBOs

Early in its first term, the Blair government introduced a system of "anti-social behaviour orders" (ASBOs) - court orders, obtainable against people who acted "in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household", banning them from doing certain things (like vandalising letterboxes, say), or going to certain places - backed by up to five years jail. The number of ASBOs issued has since exploded, as local authorities have realised the advantages of being able to do an end-run around the need for evidence (ASBOS require only a civil standard of proof, and allow gossip and hearsay to be admissible as evidence), jail people for offences for which people could not actually be imprisoned (such as prostitution), exile the obnoxious by barring them from their own homes, or simply punish non-conformity or unusual behaviour. The latter has led to a large number of "silly" orders - such as the boy who is forbidden to play football, the pensioner who is no longer allowed to be sarcastic, or the woman who is barred from being seen wearing her underwear through her windows or in her own backyard. It has also led to a great deal of cruelty, as ASBOs have increasingly been used to punish the mentally-ill. In one case, a woman who had repeatedly tried to drown herself was issued with an ASBO barring her from jumping into rivers. And more recently, they have been used to ban people with Asperger's syndrome (a mild form of autism) from staring at people. But the worst so far is the ASBO which bans a 15-year-old from swearing in the street. He has Tourette's syndrome - a mental illness whose symptoms include uncontrollable twitching and swearing - and is thus bound to go to jail. But I guess his problem won't be causing "alarm or distress" to anyone anymore...


I see this is right up there with illegal warfare amongst the crimes of Blair...

It arguably breaches Article 6 of the ECHR (presumption of innocence, given that an ASBO can be handed out by a magistrate on the 'balance of probabilities') and Article 7 (no punishment without law - any form of behaviour can be criminalised at the whim of a magistrate).

The reason it hasn't been challenged is that ASBOs are applied to the most disadvantaged in society, who are unlikely to have the resources to hire a lawyer and appeal through the courts.

Posted by Rich : 5/23/2005 10:42:00 AM