That is an example of an alarmist title. Sorry.
Equally, the legislation in question is rather alarming. It has passed ‘committee stage’, meaning it’s close to becoming law. It is all the closer, since no major media organisations have made a peep about it. And the Liberal Democrats haven’t complained, so presumably they are either down with it, or are so disillusioned with the realities of government that they’ve buggered off to Hampstead Heath to smoke dope and chat about the Floyd.
Anyway, while you were alternately groaning and orgasming at the news that Germanic warlords’ spawn have cemented their problematic future rule, you failed to notice the existence and progress of the daunting Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
– The replacement of the ASBO will be harsher and easier for the authorities to serve
– The replacement of the Dispersal Order will be harsher, longer lasting and easier for the authorities to serve
– These, together with recent government moves (below) represent a genuine threat to UK freedoms, not least the right to protest and right to assembly
What’s in the bill?
Wave upon wave of demented avengers march cheerfully out of obscurity in through your dreams
– The Floyd
The bill is massively wide, and its whole contents are not discussed here. The two most worrisome things are:
– Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs)
– Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs)
IPNAs will replace the Daily Mail’s old favourite, the ASBO (Anti Social Behaviour Order), which was widely abused by the authorities and often failed to do much good. The government’s justification is that the new law will simplify New Labour’s populist anti-chav measure, which admittedly was a clusterfuck of an instrument. This version, however, is worse. ASBOs could only be issued when a yob/hoodie/hoodlum had done something wrong – caused ‘harassment, alarm or distress’. As Scriptonite Daily points out, IPNAs require only that you might ‘engage in behaviour capable of causing annoyance’. This is FEROCIOUSLY WIDE AND FUZZY.
People who stare at me on the Tube or fart in the local sandwich shop annoy me.
Now those Tube starers and hungry farters, so long as they are over the lofty age of 10, can be served with an IPNA. This cuddly toy of an injunction can remain with them for life. It’s not just police serving IPNAs either, but parts of the NHS, Local Authority or Transport Authority. Perfect, they’re the kind of people not to abuse power above their station. Toot toot.
One saving grace is that an IPNA itself would not give our flatulent teenager a criminal record. Breaching it might, though. It might also lose her/his family their council house (if they live in one, which is to suggest that any teens likely to get an IPNA are from families SCROUNGING OFF BENEFITS.) That’s a bit mean, no?
Public Spaces Protection Orders
These are theoretically designed to stop people letting their dogs shit everywhere or to keep loud drunks off quiet streets.
I love theories like that. They look so optimistic & cheerful as they whizz by, along with vitamin-enhanced candyfloss and IQ-boosting cocaine.
PSPOs suffer from the same hopelessly wide scope as IPNAs. They can pop up, pre-emptively, to halt ‘activities carried on or likely to be carried on in a public place will have or have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’ [Clause 55, 2., a-b]. PSPOs can apply for three years, then be renewed, and renewed, and renewed.
According to The Manifesto Club, PSPOs will be easier to serve than current alcohol protection zones, and can be legally targeted at specific groups (e.g. ethnicities, protesters, horse racing enthusiasts). If you breach a PSPO you are subject to an on-the-spot fine of up to £100 which could go up to £1,000 on conviction, plus £500 if booze is involved (Summary part 152).
It gets worse!
PSPOs will bump up ‘dispersal powers’ which allow the State to send you home before bed time. You know ‘police community support officers’, the glorified parking attendants who dress up as real police? Well under the proposed changes, even they will be able to send you home. Why?
These charming fellows and fillies can send you off for 48 hours if they think you might harass, alarm or distress others (Clause 32). When I was 14, before I had braces, my teeth were a fearsome sight. I once terrified a toddler by smiling. That may well be considered ‘alarming’. Thank ye Gods, the law was not then in place – or I may have faced a £5,000 fine and six months at the pleasure of Her Majesty.
Human rights group Liberty note that the law fails to define ‘locality’, so you might be banned from a district, a city or even a county (p.17). Apparently the city of York cannot wait to get their dispersal powers on.
NetPol note this could be used in conjunction with the Violent Crime Reduction Act, already in force, which “allows police to disperse where they perceive a likelihood of alcohol related disorder. This has been criticised by organisations such as the Football Supporters Federation, who say that the power has been used in a blanket fashion, meaning that law abiding football supporters have been turned back after hours of travelling and stopped from attending games for which they had bought tickets. Netpol have also recorded instances in which s27 has been used to force people to leave an area, including a group (and legal observer) at the ‘Thatcher Party’ in Trafalgar Square earlier this year.”
What are the implications?
It’s pretty obvious that these powers would give the police and local authorities a terrifying power to disperse peaceful protest movements. Worse, the police could ban you pre-emptively, effectively ruining your right to protest and your right to assembly.
This is especially shit in the light of two related developments. Edward Snowden’s data-spying leaks have shown us that the UK government, MI5 and the police have access to virtually all our internet use and history. And have the capacity to sift it all. And have the precedent to suggest they will abuse such a power. This means I’m pretty afraid of one or other arm of government spying on (legal) discussions of political protest or opposition, then banning the people or groups planning to take to the streets (legally). [My analysis of the whole Snowden story here]
I’m also worried by the general climate the government is setting in the past few months. If it isn’t the TEMPORA/SocMint spying revelations, or abuses against Steven Lawrence’s family and friends, then there’s:
– Racist Van and the Home Office’s Hunger Games style live-feed of migrant arrests and asylum denials
– Cameron’s Porn Crusade [My analysis and links here]
– The Tories’ attempts to make it virtually impossible to take employers to court
– Chris Grayling’s universally-panned smash and grab job on the criminal justice system…
– And legal aid…
– And appeals
– Pipeline legislation that will allow serious criminals to be kept in 5” x 5” cages, out in the open, with signs encouraging members of the public to masturbate or defecate onto them.
What can I do?
Well obviously my answer is to be an armchair hero and write about it from my privileged white UMC position, complete with a glass of expensive scotch. You could do the same, on ‘activist’ grounds – hopefully you’d raise awareness and opposition, like quiet hero Andy Boddington did in me.
Better – write to your MP. Write to the MPs you think tend to stand for fluffy things like ‘justice’ and ’rights’ and ask what the fuck is going on. Ask why, in committee, the words ‘protest’ and ‘assembly’ did not come up. Ask whether this thundercunting debacle is possibly just an honest, massive oversight.
If not, you’ve got to get mad. But when you do, do so very timidly. You don’t want to be fined.
Feel free to comment!