Q&A: Anti-social behaviour powers

The coalition is reforming anti-social behaviour orders - how do the new powers compare to the old?

What is an Anti-social behaviour order?

Anti-social behaviour orders - or Asbos - are orders imposed on individuals by the courts and they were created by the former Labour government.

They are a civil rather than criminal order and they are aimed at banning an individual from engaging in specific behaviour or going to certain places.

In other words they try to stop someone doing something which local officials and police say is anti-social - rather than punish somebody for breaking a law.

Asbos can prohibit actions which are not in themselves criminal but are a prelude to a crime. An example would be banning an individual from entering a local shop because of a record of shoplifting. If someone breaches an Asbo they can be jailed.

How are they imposed?

Magistrates make the orders typically after an application by a local council, backed by the police. The council seeking the order must give the court specific details to justify the order, such as the people and incidents involved and the restrictions of the proposed ASBO.

Magistrates also hear about welfare issues, family circumstances, attempts at mediation, warnings and evidence that the defendant has not been victimised or discriminated against. Asbos typically last for two years and the individual subject to the restrictions can launch an appeal at Crown Court.

What are the criticisms?

In short, the key criticism is they do not work. They're a sticking plaster rather than a solution. Some people who were given Asbos saw them as a badge of honour - using their local notoriety to cause more mayhem. The government says official figures show that more than half of all Asbos are breached - and those that are are breached on average four times.

The Conservatives say Labour over-complicated the system, leading to 19 different powers, adding to bureaucracy, delays and a loss of community confidence. The coalition government's starting point is that much of what has become classed as anti-social behaviour is in fact crime and should be treated as crime.

So how is the government changing the system?

Ministers say that the focus on victims has been lost. They want to take the existing 19 powers and reduce them to six which are connected to:

  • The behaviour of people
  • The protection of places
  • The powers of the police

The government says these changes aim to give local communities the flexibility to do what they think is right to tackle anti-social behaviour, rather than try to fit an incident into a specific legal box defined by Whitehall. The Home Office argues its reforms will make the system simpler and clear up confusion around which power to use to deal with a problem.

The key changes explained: Existing powers on the left, proposed powers on the right:

A graphic explaining the changes to Anti-Social Behaviour
    • People
    • CRASBO
    • Cr DBO
    • ASBO
    • DBO
    • ASBI
    • ISO
    • IO
    • Criminal Behaviour Order
    • Crime Prevention Injunction
    • Places
    • Litter
      Clearing Notice
    • Street Litter Clearing
    • Graffiti Defacement Removal Notice
    • Designated Public Place Order
    • Gating Order
    • Dog Control Order
    • Premises Closure Order
    • Crack House Closure Order
    • Noisy Premises Closure Order
    • S161 Closure Order
    • Community Protection Order
    • Community Protection Notice
    • Police powers
    • S.30
      Dispersal Order
    • S.27
      Direction to leave
    • Directions Power

Key: CRASBO=Criminal Anti-Social Behaviour Order; DBO=Drink Banning Order; CR DBO=Drink Banning Order on Conviction; ASBI=Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction; ISO=Individual Support Order; IO=Intervention Order.

So what are the proposed revised powers?

In the White Paper, the ASBO and six related orders relating to the behaviour of people, such as Drink Banning Orders, will be replaced in England and Wales by two orders: the Criminal Behaviour Order and a Crime Prevention Injunction. The CBO will be available to be used against people convicted of crime. The CPI is similar to the existing Asbos - but ministers say it will be available at an earlier stage of bad behaviour and be easier and faster to use.

The government says the new injunctions will be available to be imposed at a lower standard of proof than Asbos because they are civil orders granted in the County Court, not by a magistrate.

A council seeking an ASBO has to prove its case to the criminal standard of "beyond reasonable doubt" rather than merely on the balance of probabilities. Other agencies, such as the NHS, will also be allowed to seek CPIs.

The second set of powers relate to protection of places. The 10 current laws include powers to close premises, control dogs in public, deal with crack houses or ban drinking in a specific area, such as a town square. Under the proposals these will be reduced to three types of Community Protection Orders.

What about police powers?

Police officers have two specific and overlapping ASBO-related powers to allow them to force people to move on. An area designated as a dispersal zone gives the police the power to disperse groups or two or more people from the area for 24 hours. It was designed to stop gangs hanging around and intimidating people. The second power allows the police to order people to leave a public place where they believe their presence will contribute to alcohol-related crime or disorder.

These are going to be consolidated into a single power under which the police will not need to designate a dispersal zone in advance.

Ministers say this will mean the police can deal quickly with "emerging trouble" before it gets out of control. In the wake of the riots in English cities in August 2011, the Home Secretary said she would consider a new curfew power to allow police to clear rapidly people out of areas where there is trouble.

What is the community trigger?

The Home Office says victims need greater reassurance that their problems are being taken seriously by local police and councils. One of the most well-known cases where a family were failed is that of Fiona Pilkington in Leicestershire. She repeatedly complained that she and her disabled daughter were being terrorised by abuse. In 2007, after a decade of intimidation, she killed her daughter and her herself.

Three areas - Manchester, Brighton and Hove and West Lindsey in Lincolnshire - are piloting a proposed "community trigger". Under the system, the police would be forced to respond if five households complain, or the same individual complains three times.

More on this story