Peers block law on being annoying in public


Peers debate the proposal: from BBC Democracy Live

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Peers have voted against a government proposal under which courts could stop people being annoying in public.

Ministers want to replace anti-social behaviour orders in England and Wales with injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance (Ipnas).

Courts could impose these on anyone engaging - or threatening to engage - in "conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person".

But the government was defeated by 306 to 178 votes in the Lords.

The 128-vote defeat came despite ministers offering to hold talks about how the proposed measure could be improved.

Start Quote

Our aim is to ensure that decent law-abiding people can go about their daily lives, engage in normal behaviour... without having their own freedoms constrained by anti-social individuals”

End Quote Lord Taylor of Holbeach Home Office minister

The BBC's deputy political editor James Landale said many peers believed the new injunction would undermine freedom of speech and association.

Crossbench peer Lord Dear, who led opposition to the plan, said anyone over the age of 10 could be served with an Ipna, which could last for an indefinite period of time and result in a prison term if breached.

"It risks it being used for those who seek to protest peacefully, noisy children in the street, street preachers, canvassers, carol singers, trick-or-treaters, church bell ringers, clay pigeon shooters, nudists," he said.

"This is a crowded island that we live in and we must exercise a degree surely of tolerance and forbearance."

Campaigners said the laws would not deter those most intent on causing trouble and likely to be committing other offences.

"But it will give massive power to the authorities to seek court orders to silence people guilty of nothing more than breaching political correctness or social etiquette," Reform Clause 1 campaign director Simon Calvert said.

'Elastic term'

Crossbencher Lord Blair of Boughton, a former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: "This is a piece of absolutely awful legislation and we should seek to avoid it."

Former Labour Attorney General Lord Morris of Aberavon criticised the Home Office for bringing forward "ill thought out" proposals with "little regard for the consequences".

"The Home Office I fear, from time to time, does not fulfil a purpose as a guardian of our liberties and as a watchtower against infringement of those liberties," he said, arguing that the words harassment, alarm and distress had been well tested in the courts.

"Nuisance and annoyance is such an elastic term that, if applied widely, can be open-ended machinery which would catch all sorts of people who really should not be before the courts," he concluded.

The Home Office has said the new injunctions - part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill - would never be imposed in an unreasonable way.

And Home Office minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach denied that the bill would create a "chilling effect" on free speech.

"Lords have suggested, for example, that an injunction could be sought against bell ringers or street preacher or carol singers or indeed others engaging in perfectly normal everyday activities.

"That is clearly not the government's purpose. It is my belief that these concerns are misplaced. The purpose of our reforms is not to prevent people exercising their rights to protests and free speech.

"Our aim is to ensure that decent law-abiding people can go about their daily lives, engage in normal behaviour and enjoy public and private behaviour without having their own freedoms constrained by anti-social individuals."

The government could seek to reinsert the proposal in the bill later in its passage through the Lords and, if that fails, when it returns to the House of Commons.

Both Houses of Parliament must agree on the final wording of the bill before it can be sent for Royal Assent, when the Queen approves bills and they become law.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    a way has to be found to deal with people who terrorise the weak and infirm for fun. It happens a lot. The unelected lords are taking a law designed for that and applying it to whatever their fevered imagination can think of and say that is what will happen that people will be arrested for wearing loud shirts or walking on the cracks in the pavement or what not. Let lords be elected first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    First an attack on press freedom and now one on individual freedom.


    "The Home Office has said the new injunctions would never be imposed in an unreasonable way."

    You mean just like the way the anti-terrorist laws were not being used unreasonably? The trouble with this is what is defined as being
    "conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person".

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    147. Richard Tams
    The police will invariably misuse the law when they feel like it. As when two old ladies out for a walk near the Fylingdales were arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences.

    Filingdales is about a mile from the main road surrounded with signs saying stay away. Its the early warning radar that detects incoming nuclear missiles. The MOD police (not civil) are touchy

  • Comment number 168.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    "annoyance to any person". the government annoys the hell outa me so the law says they can be banished. Great!

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Freedom RIP

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    158. Bill Walker
    If it stops me from having to run the gauntlet of those trying to get me to sign up to paying £5 a month to save the poor donkeys of Khazakstan then I'm all for it. Ditto those having shouted conversations into their mobile on the bus.

    Just buy as Tesco lasagne if you want to save a donkey ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    This law seems to be so badly conceived as to be almost laughable....unless you were to believe that this govt.wants to allow the "authorities" to suppress anyone for anything. It's about time someone reminded our political "masters" that they govern not by absolute right but only with the consent of the populace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Are the Peers in favour of annoyance or are they standing up for freedom?

    Remember, it was the House of Lords that thwarted moves to reduce benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Dealing with antisocial behavior shouldn't be a problem. If you gave proper sentences for crimes already on the books like assault, underage drinking, driving without a licence, using foul and abusive language, making fake emergancy calls etc you could soon sort this prob. If every offence got a couple hundred hours+ of supervised community service they wouldn't have the time to be a problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    The house of Lords is like a fat, bloated, over paid security guard who gives you hassle. Should have been replaced years ago by a better and cheaper alternative. In this case though he has at least done his job.

    None of us are entitled to a an annoyance free life, it would be boring anyway. This law will take away the last recourse of the 'small man' while ignoring the real hoods on the street

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    So a public protest would be "annoying"?
    I'd be annoyed by UKIP/EDL/BNP match if they come to my street, but I wouldn't want them arrested as long as they don't break anything.
    Sounds like government control tactics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Who told you that?"
    I study law. Parliament pass primary legislation +are able to enact or repeal any laws (broadly speaking, there are exceptions, ie new statues having to comply with the HRA 1998 etc). The judiciary too create law through judicial decisions + precedents, this is how common law develops, but Parliamentary Acts can overturn such rulings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    If it stops me from having to run the gauntlet of those trying to get me to sign up to paying £5 a month to save the poor donkeys of Khazakstan then I'm all for it. Ditto those having shouted conversations into their mobile on the bus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    At all costs this proposal needs to be defeated. Of course, by posting this I have just made myself an 'unperson' and will soon disappear, along with this message...

    A more blatant attempt to deny people the right to meet in public and protest cannot be imagined. What's next, imposition of permanent Martial Law?

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    What the hell is this, Nazi Germany or something? If I want to annoy someone, I will. If I want to offend someone, I will. To hell with political correctness, the NMBY's and complainers in this country will just have to get over it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    These spiteful millionaire Tories are annoying me, I want them banned from Parliament under threat of imprisonment.

    Fair's fair, they're annoying millions of people with their deliberate impoverishment of everyone, and enrichment of themselves and their banker/stock trader cronies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Can this law stop people like Lucy Emmerson co coordinator of the sex education forum, who says today we should stop our children from kissing grand parents, that for me is the very definition of being annoying in public and indeed holding a public office.

    The point being we have a very real lack of common sense thinking in this country right now and so out of touch it's scary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    "conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person".

    There's about 700 of them just across the way from the lords.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    'great idea.
    Give our honest and incorruptible police the ability to arrest anyone who wants to say anything that may annoy them. '

    This bill wouldn't. It would allow the police (and some others) to apply for an injuction and later apply for a warrant if the annoyance continued. And I suspect 'annoyance' in law means more than merely 'annoying'.


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