Three Notable Developments Across the Pond

 Posted on January 05, 2009 in Uncategorized

1. Anti-Social Behavior Orders (ASBOs)

From the Home Office's website:

Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) are court orders which [sic] forbid specific threatening or intimidating actions. An ASBO can ban a person from:

threatening, intimidating or disruptive actions

spending time with a particular group of friends

visiting certain areasASBOs are in effect for a minimum of two years, and can be longer. They are designed to protect specific victims, neighbours, or even whole communities from behaviour that has frightened or intimidated them, or damaged their quality of life.These are civil orders – not criminal penalties – so they won't appear on a suspect's criminal record. However, if that person breaches an ASBO, they have committed a criminal offence, which is punishable by a fine or up to five years in prison.

"Proceedings for the imposition of an ASBO are civil in nature, so that hearsay evidence is admissible, but a court must be satisfied to a criminal standard that the individual has acted in the anti-social manner alleged" (UK Sentencing Guidelines Council Magistrates' Court Sentencing Guidelines [PDF]); anonymous evidence is also permitted (For the Record); "A police officer or other professional witness, such as a council official, health worker, teacher or doctor can also give evidence in court on behalf of a vulnerable witness." (The Wikipedia entry charmingly claims that "the fact that some of the evidence is hearsay (and therefore without the possibility of cross-examination of prosecution witnesses) does not have the automatic result that the proceedings are unfair.")

ASBOs are public. Part of the point appears to be to shame the recipient (click on the picture for more pictures and some anecdotes).

Breach of an ASBO is a criminal offense. It appears that the right to a jury trial attaches.Around 50% of those subject to an ASBO eventually wind up in jail nevertheless.

The list of agencies that can apply to the courts for an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) has been extended over the years since ASBOs first became available in 1999.Any one of the following agencies can apply for an order, subject to a legal obligation to consult with other agencies.

  1. Local authorities: district councils, London boroughs, the Corporation of London, the Isle of Wight, Welsh counties or county boroughs and English county councils.

  2. Police forces

  3. British transport police

  4. Registered social landlords (as defined by Section 1 of the Housing Act 1996)

  5. Housing action trusts [Wikipedia] (as defined by Section 62 of Housing Act 1988)

  6. Environment Agency

  7. Transport for London

  8. Arms length management organisations (ALMOs [Wikipedia) where a local authority has contracted out this function.

(Home Office, again.)

So what we have here is a procedure by which one of a growing laundry list of agencies can, in response to an anonymous complaint of an incident that causes harassment, alarm or distress", get a human being ordered not to do something, including going into a particular village, speaking up, or being in public with more than one other person. If the human being then does that thing again, even if it wasn't otherwise criminal, he gets tossed in prison for up to five years.

It's a sort of penal code Mad-Libs for latent Stalinists.

2. Government-Sanctioned Private Self-Help Debt Collectors (Disillusioned Discordian via Charon QC)

The government has been accused of trampling on individual liberties by proposing wide-ranging new powers for bailiffs to break into homes and to use "reasonable force" against householders who try to protect their valuables.Under the regulations, bailiffs for private firms would for the first time be given permission to restrain or pin down householders. They would also be able to force their way into homes to seize property to pay off debts, such as unpaid credit card bills and loans.

(Times Online, or if the Times link doesn't work.)

Government-sanctioned home-invasion robbers! This harks back to the old days of undisguised serfdom. I'm picturing the Blackwater knights collecting debts for the Barons of Washington Mutual: possibly the best argument ever for a robust Second Amendment.

3. Community-determined punishments for low-level crimes (Social Services for Feral Children, citing The Guardian) on this model:

The proposals are supported by the communities secretary, Hazel Blears, who said at a Number 10 crime summit recently that it was "the most powerful thing" when "local people got to vote on what it was they wanted the convicted criminals to do in their community, so there were 10 options and they voted on the top three, they then went and did it, they were seen doing it in the community and then they had to report back about what they had done."

I gather that what we call "community service," the Brits call "punishment". Still, I think the idea needs work. Wouldn't it make more sense for the convicted criminals, rather than the voters, to be the ones to do the three things chosen by the voters?

I kid - Ms. Blears clearly has unresolved antecedent issues. Unfortunately, the Guardian article fails to clarify Ms. Blears's antecedential ambiguity, so that we're left wondering whether the local people are choosing community service separately for each petty criminal, or for petty criminals as a group.

Here, I've got a brilliant idea for allowing the community to determine punishments for low-level crimes: you could take six members of the community, let them hear the facts of one case, give them a broad range of punishment (with limits - we probably don't want juries killing people for graffiti), and punish the defendant as they think appropriate; you could call this group of six people a "jury".

It's a crazy idea, I know, but it might just catch on.

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