Busy Bodies charter or effective tool?
On Thursday of last week the Grand Chamber of the House of Lords debated the measures being taken to ensure that the powers available under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 were being invoked in an accountable, appropriate and proportionate manner.
As someone who watched the debate online I was looking forward to a discussion about the various powers introduced by the 2014 Act. However the entirety of the debate focused on the use of Public Space Protection Orders ('PSPOs').
PSPOs allow councils to place controls on public spaces and those within it. They replace Gating Orders, Designated Public Place Orders and Dog Control Orders. Their stated purpose is to deal with activities that are detrimental to the life of the community.
In order to make a PSPO two conditions must be met. First the behaviour must have a detrimental effect of the quality of life of the community. Second the effect of the behaviour must be of a persistent or continuing nature, unreasonable and justify the restrictions imposed in the order.
Several authorities were singled out for special mention due to the broad ranging nature of the prohibitions they have introduced. A number of authorities have been criticised for banning busking or street art. Others have sought to regulate the activities of buskers, rough sleepers, charity collectors and skateboarders. The debate included some examples of some problematic prohibitions. One authority's ban on head coverings would include hats. Another authority has banned lying down in public which would prohibit lying on the grass or falling asleep in a public place.
Separately from the prohibitions, some of which were described as 'comical', there was criticism of the fact that a single officer had introduced area-wide orders in many councils without any apparent recourse to the council/cabinet.
PSPOs which covered matters that are already criminal offences were also highlighted.
Having advised on a number of potential challenges to PSPOs I know that there have been criticisms of the consultation process as well as the adequacy of the evidence base. PSPOs which have sought to name individuals, or which have been directed at one individual have also been criticised.
The Manifesto Club has described PSPOs as a 'Busy Bodies' charter and on 2 August 2016 published a report on the 'Busybodies Charter Update: Worst 20 new PSPOs'. Liberty have also been critical of the orders (view statement). The Local Government Association responded to the Manifesto Club's report stating that PSPOs were an effective tool in dealing with anti-social behaviour (view statement).
During the debate Baroness Williams of Trafford confirmed that the guidance arounds PSPOs is being reviewed to see how it could be strengthened to ensure the proportionate and accountable use of the powers. A full record of the debate can be found on this link.
The Cornerstone team is conducting a poll on whether PSPOs require further restriction. Have your say here.
The legislation is deceptive in its simplicity and a number of issues are causing concern for local authorities seeking to introduce PSPOs. If you would like advice on how best to avoid a challenge, or if you are facing a challenge, do get in touch.
To find out more see chapter 7 of 'Cornerstone on Anti-Social Behaviour: The New Law' by Kuljit Bhogal.
Thanks to Andrew Lane for his input on this article.