|In 1998, the UK's Blair administration introduced Asbos (anti-social behaviour orders) as part of its new criminal justice legislation. Recently, our own National MP Simon Power advocated that they be introduced here. So what's the story? Asbos are civil orders that are undertaken against those who alarm, harass or distress those not of the same household, and have been argued to protect those at risk of further antisocial defendant behaviours. In the United Kingdom, Asbos have included orders against vandalism, abusive behaviour and are included within the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, as well as the Antisocial Behaviour Acts 2003 (England and Wales) and 2004 (Scotland).
ASBOs also include witness protection programmes, as well as extended offences after the offender has been served with a fixed penalty notice. Civil libertarians and other detractors argue that Asbos criminalise noncriminal nuisance behaviours. From dealing with low-level nuisance behaviour, they have arguably been abused against children and adolescents with developmental disabilities, people with mental illness and environmental protestors. The British Institute for Brain Injuries has expressed its concern about the expansion of Asbo coverage, worried that it might catch these young folk. Asbos are argued to rely on a lower burden of proof than criminal law, and mere hearsay is admissible as "evidence" of an Asbo offence. According to the anti-Asbo Statewatch, they've been abused against homeless street people, drug addicts, graffiti artists, elderly pigeon feeders and charity soup kitchens (in Manchester). In other instances, though, Asbos seem justified. If someone attacks a ticket inspector on a train, flashes at others, carries concealed weapons or engages in intimidating behaviour, then Asbos are more appropriate. They're also popular- one UK MORI poll indicated that eighty-two percent of one poll supported Asbos. UK LGBT opinion is mixed. On the one hand, it could be theoretically possible to serve homophobic adolescent yobs outside gay pubs or clubs with Asbos, but on the other, it could also be used to harrass those who undertake bog sex, regardless of the fact that the public lavatories used are usually deserted at night, or against sex workers. However, I found no such mention of specific gay or antigay usages on Statewatch's website. It should be noted that ethnic minority communities have used it against violent racist skinheads, though, so that use is not impossible to contemplate. In a recent UK Independent column, gay journalist Johann Hari defended Asbos, albeit on the basis of their popular support amongst low income inner city Britons. He also noted that Asbos have built-in safeguards, such as having to be based on evidence of recurrent antisocial behaviour, and tested in a magistrates court. Added to which, he conceded that remedial education services for children at risk of antisocial behaviour, and with developmental disabilities, also needed to be part of that package. Hopefully, if Asbos are eventually introduced here, they'll avoid dafter excesses like punishing little old folk from distributing crumbs to their avian friends. At least the Blair administration is recognisably centre-left, and can be expected to back up these disciplinary measures with social service assistance, too. And National, here? Sorry, I'm sceptical. At the last general election, many urban and female voters were alienated from National's tax cut obsession due to their concern that it would once again neglect social policy issues as it did during the nineties. When I'm not a Gaynz.Com columnist, I work in the mental health sector. National did not have an elaborated mental health policy at the last general election. That is disgusting. Before I accept National's Asbo policy, I want to see far more work on how they will avoid catching children with developmental disabilities and the mentally ill within its ambit. And does existing legislation provide protection that might be reinforced through a govermment anti-social behaviour strategy? For example, why not use the Harrassment Act 1997 in a similar manner, or amend it if needed? Asbos will continue to be controversial, but if we must have this debate, then let it be an informed debate. Background Reading Siobhan Campbell: A Review of Antisocial Behaviour Orders: London: Home Office: 1992. Scott Collins and Rebecca Cattermole: Antisocial Behaviour: Powers and Remedies: London: Sweet and Maxwell: 2004. Blackstone's Guide to the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003: Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2004. Her Majestys Stationery Office: A Guide to Antisocial Behaviour Orders and Acceptable Behaviour Contracts: London: HMSO: 2003. Anesha Parma and Sharon Heels: Asbos: Law and Practice: London: Jordan Publishing: 2003. Home Office: Crime and Disorder Act 1998: Asbo Guidance: London: Home Office Communication Directorate: 1999. Blair administration: Social Policy: Deborah Steinberg and Richard Johnson (ed) Blairism and the War of Persuasion: London: Lawrence and Wishart: 2004. Anti-Asbo: Statewatch: http://www.statewatch.org.uk Benedict Brook: "Taking Liberties": Gay Times 325 (October 2005): 49-50. Pro- Asbo (Modified): Johann Hari: "Would You Oppose the Respect Agenda if You Had a Wolf Howling at the Door?" (UK) Independent: 12/01/05: http://www.johannhari.com/index.php Benedict Brook: "Taking Liberties": Gay Times 325 (October 2005): 49-50. Pro- Asbo (Modified): Johann Hari: "Would You Oppose the Respect Agenda if You Had a Wolf Howling at the Door?" (UK) Independent: 12/01/05: http://www.johannhari.com/index.php National Party http://www.national.org.nz Craig Young - 31st January 2006