Saturday, December 06, 2008

More ASBO madness

An elderly man in the UK has been issued as ASBO for dressing as a schoolgirl:

A 59-year-old man who went out in public dressed as a schoolgirl while children walked home from lessons has been given a five-year antisocial behaviour order. Peter Trigger dressed up in a grey skirt and jumper, white shirt, baseball cap and a tie before waiting near a primary school as children came and went, Northampton Borough Council said.

On several occasions he also wore a knee-length laboratory coat and appeared to be wearing nothing underneath, the authority added. Trigger received a five-year Asbo at Northampton magistrates' court, banning him from wearing a skirt or showing bare legs on a school day between 8.30am and 10am, and 2.45pm and 4pm.

The man's behaviour is undeniably creepy, and definitely the sort of thing which should result in the police monitoring the situation to ensure it doesn't escalate into anything worse. At the same time, it's difficult to see anything illegal about it. In a liberal society, you can wear what you like. Other people may find your style of dress unfashionable, even disturbing - but provided its not actually obscene, they just have to lump it. And this extends even to creepy old guys who want to dress as schoolgirls in public. He's not actually harming anyone by doing so, and so his fashion sense is none of the state's business.

(Note also the overbreadth of the order. I'm presuming that the limit applies only to public places, and that the UK government is not purporting to regulate what someone wears int he privacy of their own home (OTOH, they have in other cases - someone was awarded as ASBO forbidding them from opening the door in their dressing gown). But even then, he's not just forbidden from dressing as a schoolgirl, but from crossdressing in general (again, none of th state's damn business), or even from wearing shorts. No matter how ugly you think old men's legs are, they shouldn't be facing five years in jail for displaying them).

But the problem isn't just one of illiberalism - it's also one for the rule of law. Since the time of Solon, western societies have written their laws down to ensure clarity and prevent abuses by the authorities. But in the UK, the police just get to make up the law as they go along, and throw you in jail if you disagree. And that's not just a threat to creepy old men - but to everyone's freedom.