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Kids too annoying? UK bill seeks to criminalize children’s ‘nuisance’

Published time: November 12, 2013 17:42
Edited time: November 13, 2013 08:37

AFP Photo / Lewis Whyld

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The UK government is moving towards passing legislation which could criminalize behavior deemed capable of causing a “nuisance or annoyance.” The bill has already passed through its second hearing in the House of Lords and looks set to become law.

The Anti-Social Behavior, Crime and Policing Bill will grant powers to police, local authorities, and even private security firms to restrict any activity deemed to have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality.”

“Essentially what they’re attempting to do is give police the authority to make any lawful protest immediately illegal, simply because it “may, has, or is likely to cause nuisance or annoyance,” Kerry-Anne Mendoza, a campaigner against the Anti-Social Behavior Bill told RT. 

The bill purports to “streamline” the governmental “toolkit” against disorderly conduct, by replacing nineteen of the powers with six new ones, such as enabling the arrest of intentional and persistent beggars and the “police dispersal power to direct people away from an area in order to prevent anti-social behavior.”

One of the schemes the bill encompasses is the IPNA (Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance) - a replacement for the Anti-Social Behavior Orders (ASBOs) which have fallen under repeated criticism since their introduction in 1998. One man from Loch Ness named Stuart Hunt has faced court proceedings 2,100 times since 2007 for breaching an ASBO placed upon him for slow-hand clapping, laughing, and staring.

A 13 year old has been banned from using the word ‘grass’ in England or Wales, and an 87 year old was allocated an ASBO, threatening him with a prison sentence if he was sarcastic to his neighbors.

The IPNA, on the other hand, means that people charged could be subject to up to two years imprisonment or an unlimited fine for people over the age of 18. Council would as well no longer seek Criminal Behaviour Orders at local Magistrates’ Courts. Instead the High Court, County Court and Youth Court would handle the IPNAs.

While the ASBO was targeted at cracking down on behavior considered as causing “harassment, alarm or distress,” the IPNA replacement will target conduct “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.”

The potential measures have already been condemned for their ambiguity and broad-reach, while having minimal checks and balances to protect civilians.

“It allows police to bar people from what they call a ‘locality’ and ‘locality’ hasn’t been defined, it could be a city, a county, a country….nobody really knows,” said Mendoza.

Jacqui Cheer, the chief constable of Cleveland Police has also criticized the potential new law, stating on Tuesday that “What’s antisocial to one person is just what I did and what many young people do.” Cheer made the comments while speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children.

“We are here to protect everybody. But we need to be careful where the line is,” she added.

The bill underwent its second hearing in the House of Lords last week and is expected to be enshrined in law by Christmas.