Monday, May 28, 2007

The Explosion

Over the weekend, Police Minister Annette King floated the idea of introducing UK-style Anti-Social Behaviour Orders in New Zealand "as a way to overcome Bill of Rights problems with banning individuals and gang patches in public". For those who don't know, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are court orders, obtainable by a wide range of bodies 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", and barring people from being in certain places or doing certain things. They are issued on a civil standard of proof, according to standards of evidence which would shame the average lynchmob - gossip and hearsay are admissible, as is anonymous "evidence" (pedophobia being so strong in the UK that the victims of teenage chavs swearing and sneering are considered to need more protection than the victims of rapists). There is no limit on what can be required by an order (some have effectively sentenced people to exile by forbidding them to reside in their own homes), and the penalty for violating one is up to five years imprisonment.

The basic objection to such a system is obvious: it seeks to punish people without the procedural safeguards of a criminal trial. Those subjected to an ASBO do not benefit from such niceties as the presumption of innocence, the need for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to counsel or the right to challenge their accusers. The entire system is conceived as an end-run around those protections. This is bad enough when used against those accused of petty crime such as vandalism, shoplifting, offensive behaviour and harassment (all of which could be prosecuted under existing law if the British police actually wanted to do their jobs). It is worse when it is used to punish behaviour which is not actually an offence at all. Unfortunately, that is what Annette King is proposing - her chosen targets are boy racers who drive loud cars, gang members who wear patches in public, and convicted criminals who live in Rotorua. None of this is a crime - but if King has her way, people will be facing punishment and possibly jail time for it.

Unlike King, I think that if the state wants to punish certain behaviour, it should pass a law criminalising it, rather than letting the police make up the law as they go along. And unlike King, I take the Bill of Rights Act seriously. If the BORA says that you can't punish people just for wearing a gang patch, or retroactively punish them again for a crime they have already served their sentence for, then that to my mind is a good reason not to do such things, rather than a flaw which must be circumvented with a tawdry legal fiction.


Temting though it is to blame Labour in a partisan fashion, it has to be said that this is part of a general erosion of individual freedom that has taken place since 9/11 (or 12/9, if you were in NZ).

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 07:28:00 PM

ASBO: "conduct which caused or was likely to cause alarm, harassment, or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as him or herself and where an ASBO is seen as necessary to protect relevant persons from further anti-social acts by the Defendant"

I could never understand why the entire British parliament, and especially Tony Blair, haven't been issued with ASBOs for their invasion of Iraq.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 08:13:00 PM

You kept me waiting for this one!

Can only agree though.

Posted by David Farrar : 5/28/2007 08:26:00 PM

KiwiDonkey: Problem is its not just Labour - National wants them too.

Zippy: Who needs laws at all? We'll just let the police or local bodies make it up as they go along! After all, it's worked so well in the UK. Those irritating neighbours who are sarcastic at us or who do a Tony Soprano every morning to get the paper won't be bothering us. Neither will those untidy prostitutes and beggers. And those autistic kids won't be staring any more, will they? Why, with ASBOs we can even cure Tourette's (or at least throw those afflicted with it in jail where we won't have to put up with their little problem).

ASBOs are the ultimate tool of a conformist, illiberal society to force everyone to toe the line. It turns Pearson's metaphorical jury into a real one, with legal powers to control your life. Muldoon would have loved them. To see a Labour government toying with the idea is utterly disheartening, and it reminds me of why I will never, ever vote for the fuckers.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/28/2007 09:16:00 PM

Christiaan: If the law passes, I was thinking of applying for one for Annette King. Because her attitude that the BORA is just an impediment to be circumvented rather than values to be treasured certainly alarms and distresses me.

DPF: I've had a busy weekend, then spent too long this afternoon chewing my own leg off trying to find the right words. Writing while angry is difficult like that.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/28/2007 09:19:00 PM

Well, I certainly agree there are "Bill of Rights problems" that must be overcome. Of course, the "problems" I see consist largely of politicians trying to trample the BoR into the dirt, but it doesn't sound like that's the kind of problem King's trying to overcome...

Posted by Psycho Milt : 5/29/2007 07:44:00 AM

I find it ironic a woman is pushing this. If ASBOs existed 120 years ago King would still be shackled in the kitchen, after the Suffragettes spent the rest of their lives in jail.

Why must Labout import the worst ideas of the Blair government? And where's the fucking opposition? The Greens and sometimes ACT are the only parties in parlianment who seem to give a shit about anything more than who gets the next dollop of candy.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/29/2007 09:05:00 PM