“The UK Government is about to pass legislation which will make any behaviour perceived to potentially ‘cause nuisance or annoyance’ a criminal offence. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill also grants local authorities, police and even private security firms sweeping powers to bar citizens from assembling lawfully in public spaces. The Bill has successfully passed through the House of Commons without issue, and is now in the latter stages of review by the House of Lords, after which it will receive Royal Assent and become Law. Those who refuse orders under the new rules will face arrest, fines and even prison time.”
It seems to me that this legislation is being made partly to deal with concerns about section five of the Public Order Act. This, as stated in Vox Political‘s article last year, states, “(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he: (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby” – but only applies if a person has been the victim.
It could not be used if an organisation had been subjected to abuse – as was claimed, in this case of the Department for Work and Pensions. Now, it seems, a law is coming into force that can.
This is entirely unwarranted. Abuses of the Public Order Act have clearly demonstrated that the law needs to be relaxed, rather than tightened. Your freedom is being taken away from you, including your right to free speech.
It’s no surprise that this is going on even after this blog, and Scriptonite, and others (I’m sure) have pointed out the problem. We are tiny islands on the media map; most people only ever visit the continents that are the TV news and newspapers, which are happy to pander to their prejudices.
The Public Order Act, as Rowan Atkinson stated in his (should be) legendary Reform Section 5 speech, has led to several alarming exercises of power, “like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse ‘gay’.”
The new Bill introduces Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs) to replace ASBOs, which were also widely abused. Scriptonite quotes some of these abuses, including:
- Stuart Hunt of Loch Ness brought to court 100 times since 2007 for breaching an ASBO preventing him from laughing, staring or slow hand clapping.
- Homeless, alcoholic and mentally ill Michael Gilligan given a 99 year ASBO rather than the welfare support that might have made a difference
- A profoundly deaf 17 year old girl given an ASBO and a jail sentence for spitting in the street
- A 13 year old banned from using the word ‘grass’ in England or Wales
- Manchester Council applied an ASBO to prevent a mobile soup kitchen from feeding the homeless
- Councils placing ASBOs on homeless people resulting in prison sentences for begging ‘earnestly and humbly’
- An 87 year old man was given an ASBO threatening a prison sentence if he was sarcastic to his neighbours.
“The ASBO has allowed the line between criminal behaviour and annoying behaviour to become hopelessly blurred – and the IPNAs will only serve to increase the problem,” says Scriptonite. “We have seen the abuses permitted under ASBO legislation, the test for which included wording to the effect that ASBOs could only be issued where an actual act of ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ had occurred. IPNAs have a much weaker test, applicable where on the ‘balance of probabilities’ a person has or might engage in behaviour ‘capable of causing annoyance’ to another person. How many times a day could this legislation apply to any of us? Eating with our mouths open, talking too loudly into our phones in a public space, walking too slowly or quickly or belching without saying ‘pardon me’. All of this may very well cause annoyance – but soon it might well also be illegal.”
More to the point: If you had a complaint against a government department – no matter whether it was justified – and you publicised it… wouldn’t that cause annoyance to them? Would it not cause them a nuisance?
And, considering the reaction to one woman’s complaint outlined in the VP article mentioned above, would this legislation not give ministers the power to lock you up for it?
This is not a law that should be passed. It is an attack on your freedom, and mine. It is a badge of repression, to be worn by our police as they continue their metamorphosis into symbols of the totalitarianism into which the UK is falling.
There is a petition against this. Please sign it before the law is passed and this document itself becomes a nuisance or annoyance.
I can find no better way to end this article than by paraphrasing what I said before: Police intimidation of those who speak out against injustice is not only an attack on free speech; it is an attack on the entire philosophy on which our society is based.
Next article: Bedroom Tax Tories: What they said and why they were wrong – covering the debate on the Bedroom Tax (or state under-occupation charge, but never spare room subsidy) in the House of Commons on November 12.
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