Dispersal Powers (Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014)

Legal Speak

A constable in uniform may use dispersal powers to direct a person who is in a public place to leave the locality of that place and not to return for a specified period (maximum 48 hours) if two conditions are met:

(i) the constable has reasonable grounds to suspect that the presence or behaviour of the person in the locality has contributed to or is likely to contribute to members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or the occurrence in the locality of crime or disorder; and

(ii) the constable considers that giving a direction to a person under this section is necessary for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of the events mentioned in (i). The constable may also require the surrender of an item being used to harass, alarm or distress members of the public.

The direction must be given in writing (unless not reasonably practicable), specifying the locality to which it relates and imposing requirements as to the time by which the person must leave and the manner in which they must do so (including the route). The constable should tell the person that failing without reasonable excuse to comply with the direction is an offence. If the constable reasonably believes that the offender is under 16, he/she may remove the person to a place where the person lives or a place of safety.

This power is designed to combine the most effective elements of the various current police powers into a single, less bureaucratic police power. A significant limitation in pre-2014 police powers to disperse individuals causing ASB is that they had to be agreed in advance and could only be used in a pre-arranged area. In a fast moving situation, where groups can quickly convene to cause ASB or disorder and then move to different areas, the old powers were ineffective.

Our Original Analysis when it became Law

This power to quickly disperse people causing anti-social behaviour sounds a logical measure though concerns have been raised about why it would be needed for up to 48 hours if the purpose is primarily to disperse individuals in a specific incident.  We hope constables on the beat will be aware of these powers and have received appropriate training in how to use them so that when they see relevant problems arising, they can have the confidence to disperse in accordance with this new tool and avoid potentially volatile situations.