The Government is planning to replace Asbos with a new system for dealing with anti-social behaviour Photo: JUSTIN SUTCLIFFE
A raft of senior police and civil liberty groups are worried that Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs) could be used against children as young as 10 for any behaviour "capable of causing annoyance" to another person.
The court orders are designed to be a tougher replacement for Labour's Asbos, which can only currently be taken out against people causing actual "harassment, alarm or distress".
However, there are fears they could be slapped on children - or adults - who have simply "annoyed" the neighbours, when the new powers come unto force under the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.
In evidence to MPs, the Association of Chief Police Officers warns the new type of injunctions against children "have the potential to be used inappropriately" and "unnecessarily criminalise" them.
ACPO called on the Coalition re-think the draft legislation as it could lead people to expect legal action against children that is "not possible or appropriate".
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In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, civil liberty groups warn that the new system risks undermining basic freedoms.
Nick Pickles, of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, said people who are annoying could include those canvassing for political parties or delivering junk mail.
Similarly, Preston City Council argues that the definition of causing nuisance or annoyance is "dangerously ambiguous". It said this should be amended to be "clearer about the thresholds of behaviour that would lead to injunctions being considered for people under 18."
John Dwyer, Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, also objected to the lower threshold.
"There is a need to consider the potential for over-reaction and misuse of the power," he said. "I support the retention of the 'harassment, alarm and distress' test rather than the lower threshold."
Sir Clive Loader, the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire, said the injunctions could help deal with repeated nuisance caused by "youths in the street" but it is in danger of being too "subjective".
"It is unclear how one persons interpretation of 'nuisance or annoyance' taken at its lowest, might impact on the rights of others to freedom of association and expression within the European Convention on Human Rights," he said.
The Standing Committee for Youth Justice also warned that the new system would "have a particularly detrimental effect on children".
Concerns that the new powers could be misused to punish people for trivial incidents come after the Government agreed to change the law to stop it being a crime to use "insulting" words.
Under the Public Order Act, police tried to try to convict a student who said “woof” to a police dog, and another who called a police horse ”gay”.
Earlier this month, the Government accepted an amendment to the law in the House of Lords, which removes the offence of being "insulting".
The move was backed by Rowan Atkinson, the comedian, who had warned that criticism, unfavourable comparison or “merely stating an alternative point of view” could be interpreted as an insult and lead to arrest.
Last night, a Home Office spokesperson said the courts will decide whether an injunction is a "proportionate and reasonable response".
"Persistent, targeted anti-social behaviour makes people's lives a misery and the draft Anti Social Behaviour bill is about giving victims who often feel powerless a voice.
"We want to ensure the police, councils and housing providers have faster, more effective powers and that victims have the right to demand these problems are dealt with."
My kid wakes me up at night, oh dear :)
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Edited by kenworthy, 29 January 2013 - 03:02 PM.