Last Orders for the ASBO?

Article

22 October, 2010

In July 2010 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, gave a speech which call for changes in the way anti social behaviour is to be tackled. It was said by the Secretary of State that one in seven people believed that their local area suffered from high levels of anti social behaviour and that alterations had to be made to the systems.

The speech was given at the same time as statistics were published by the Government on Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) granted between April 1999 and December 2008. The statistics showed that:

  • 16,999 ASBOs were issued during that period;
  • 86% of ASBOs were issued to men (14,566);
  • 60% of ASBOs were for a period of between two and four years;
  • 55% of ASBOs were breached at least once and 40% were breached more than once;
  • If an ASBO was breached, it was breached an average of 4.2 times;
  • Of the ASBOs breached at least once, 53% of individuals were given an immediate custodial sentence; and
  • The immediate custodial sentences were for an average of 5.2 months.

The Secretary of State also said that the ASBO was not the 'silver bullet' to cure all society's problems and that the solutions had to come from citizens, police officers, council employees, housing associations and social workers.

The ASBO

ASBOs were introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to deal with persistent anti social criminal conduct. This is known as a 'stand-alone' ASBO. It is also possible for an ASBO to be granted post-conviction in the criminal courts and also for an ASBO to be granted in county court proceedings. ASBOs can be made against anyone aged 10 years or over who has acted in an anti social manner, or is likely to so act, and where an order is needed to protect people and the community at large from further anti social acts.

It is important to note that ASBOs are not criminal penalties and are not designed to punish the offender in question. They are meant to prohibit the individual from acting in an anti social manner or from entering particular areas in order to protect the public. They can be applied for by a range of agencies such as local authorities, police forces and Registered Social Landlords. Registered Social Landlords can only apply for an ASBO where the behaviour relates to premises for which they are responsible, and the persons acting in that manner are or are likely to be in the vicinity of those premises.

Breaching an ASBO is a criminal offence and an offender can be given a fine, a custodial sentence, or both in the most serious cases.

The Rise of the ASBO

The number of ASBOs being granted in a calendar year peaked in 2005 with 4,122 being granted. There have also been a number of 'add-ons' to the ASBO which have been designed to help the individual to stop acting an anti social manner. Individual Support Orders were introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and allow a court to impose positive conditions upon a person aged between 10 and 17 to address the underlying causes of the conduct which led to the ASBO being granted. In 2009, agencies were required to carry out annual reviews of ASBOs given to those aged under 17 in order to assess the person's progress in abiding by the prohibitions imposed upon them and whether the ASBO should be varied in any way.

The Fall of the ASBO

Since its peak in 2005, the number of ASBOs being issued has fallen year on year: the figure for 2008 was 2,027 which was less than the 2,299 granted in 2007. The figures have also shown that the majority of ASBOs are breached on at least one occasion which suggests that in most cases ASBOs do not prevent anti social behaviour from occurring again.

Other research has also indicated that obtaining an ASBO can be a relatively expensive process: in 2002, the average cost was £4,800. Although it has been reported that this had dropped by around 50% in 2004 (to £2,500), the cost of seeking such an order may still be a factor which relevant agencies need to bear in mind when attempting to tackle anti social behaviour.

What does this mean for the future?

The Secretary continued to say in her speech that local authorities, social landlords, health professionals, education professionals and social services all need to work together and with the police in order to tackle anti social behaviour.

It was also announced that there would be a review of the anti social behaviour powers available to the police, as it was said that the current list of available tools were too numerous, too time consuming, too expensive and criminalised young people unnecessarily: if housing professionals were unable to understand the procedures for all the available remedies, it was said to be perpetrators of anti social behaviour would not be able to either. In place of the current options, it was stated that simpler remedies would be made available which would be easier to obtain and enforce.

Summary

Further details of the proposed changes to dealing with anti social behaviour are awaited expectantly. Social landlords should ensure that they keep up to date with any developments in this area as any announcement will have an effect upon how they can tackle anti social behaviour in their communities.

For more information and assistance on these issues, please contact the Housing Department at Forbes Solicitors on 01772 220200 or email Stuart Penswick.

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