Will Victims Still be Left on the Sidelines

This article was published in Westminster Briefings in December 2013 entitled “Anti-Social Behaviour: Will Victims still be Left on the Sidelines”

As the draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill goes under the scrutiny of the House of Lords, a myriad of interests are in evidence. The Government has throughout stated its aim to put the focus on the victim, as set out in its White Paper (http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm83/8367/8367.pdf). Whether their proposed measures are the right way to go about this is unclear, and will remain unclear until there has been time to try them out. Will the Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA) be the quick fix they promise?

If ASBOs have been criticised due to high breach rates, what factors are going to reverse that trend with IPNAs? Will the community trigger give victims resolution to their problems after three complaints have not been satisfactorily dealt with? Is that realistic against a backdrop of budget cuts? What strikes me is where the loudest debates have focused. There has been uproar about the lowering of the test for the IPNA to a civil standard as well as reducing the threshold of harassment and distress to nuisance and annoyance.

These debates, along with the minimum age of 10, have taken centre stage when they are, in fact, already enshrined in the 2003 Law (Injunctions for Nuisance and Annoyance are one of the old 19 tools; ASBOs can be given to anyone aged 10 or over). Recently, Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, Jacqui Cheer, spoke out about the need to be more tolerant of kids just being kids (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/11/antisocial-behaviour-police-chief-young-people) and children’s charities are quick to agree. If a leading police officer wants to encourage tolerance, is the victim’s voice starting to get lost?

There is also an absence of a much needed focus on the vulnerability of a victim, something HMIC analysis supports (http://www.hmic.gov.uk/media/personal-situational-and-incidental-vulnerabilities-to-anti-social-behaviour-harm-a-follow-up-study.pdf). Another group that are shouting loud are the Human Rights groups who feel that under 18s in particular will not be protected by this Bill. It is easy to forget when you read these reports that we are talking about the perpetrators. To refer so clearly to a 17 year old as a child when that individual is making other’s lives an absolute misery is to rather misrepresent the case.

Is it only me or do we live in a country where perpetrators of anti-social behaviour and crime have the whole gamut of resources available to them to appeal against convictions and get the necessary legal advice, whilst the victims must suffer in silence? We hear victims cry out that they have reported an incident of ASB but nothing has happened. Just recently a family in Birmingham were given ASBOs but this was after a decade of suffering for the neighbours (http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/lea-hall-criminal-obrien-family-6290193?ptnr_rid=4610&?icid=eml_BirminghamMailDailyNews_News1ReadMore)

This is surely unacceptable. This Bill is designed to put the victim first. They already seem to be on the sidelines with no big lobbying groups to speak out for them. Thankfully many MPs and members of the Lords can share real-life stories from their constituencies of the misery that ASB can inflict. But once the Bill is law, and agencies are trying to get a handle on how to use the new tools, will those individual voices still be heard? It was interesting to read the Lords’ scrutiny of the positive requirements aspect of the injunction – who will pay for this and who will monitor it?

The IPNA has already been criticised as a ‘tool without teeth’ (Gloria de Piero, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/much-maligned-asbos-achieve-results-8817071.html). Surely the reality is that it is dependent on how each area works and that an inevitable postcode lottery will ensue. We now know that in Cleveland, the Police may be keen to write off victim’s concerns as ‘children just being children’ whilst other areas who have already made good use of ASBOs will likely continue to make good use of IPNAs and the other tools.

The community trigger may not be pulled often but the case review that this trigger will initiate is likely to lead to a more productive review where the agencies work well together. Yet in other areas, where agencies refuse to share information and bureaucracy reigns, what sort of motion will the community trigger spark? Meanwhile, the victims are pushed further to their emotional and psychological limits. To keep victims on the sidelines is a risky move and I fear things are not about to dramatically improve for them.