link to briefings documents at

Magna Carta Plus News

back to index page
orientation to the news at

short briefing dcuments at

This page provides occasional items, linked to the original articles, as we attempt to keep up with the rapidly changing situation on civil liberties.
Archive of old news service:
2002 - 2004

1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005


Serious Crime Prevention Orders: punishing people who haven’t broken any laws

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:45 pm on 18 January, 2007.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Readers may recall the proposals for Serious and Organised Crime Prevention Orders being discussed here last year.

Now, as commented on in the Telegraph, the British government has published the Serious Crime Bill, Part 1 of which introduces this measure (under the revised term “Serious Crime Prevention Orders”).

According to the Telegraph article:

Until yesterday, we fondly believed that only a jury could decide whether any of us had committed a serious crime. That fundamental principle was torn up when the Government published its Serious Crime Bill.

This allows judges, sitting without juries, to make orders which, if breached, would put us in prison for five years.

Two conditions must be satisfied before the court can make a serious crime prevention order. First, the judge must be satisfied that someone has been “involved in serious crime” — anywhere in the world.

To be “involved”, you do not have to have committed a serious offence, or even helped someone else to have committed it. All you need to have done is to conduct yourself in a way that was likely to make it easier for someone to commit a serious offence, whether or not it was committed.


The second condition for a serious crime prevention order is that the court has reasonable grounds for believing it would prevent, restrict, or disrupt involvement by a person in a serious crime in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The Telegraph is certainly correct a judge will decide on whether you’ve been involved in a serious crime, not a jury, and will do so on the basis of “balance of probability” rather than proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

They also seem to be broadly correct about the conditions under which these orders are to be imposed. The second condition above is almost a direct quotation of Section 1(1)(b).

As for the first condition, sections 1 through 4 of the bill elaborate what it means to be “involved in serious crime”.

To summarise:

  • being involved in “serious crime”, means that you:
    • have been convicted of a serious crime, or
    • facilitated the commissioning of a serious crime by another person, or
    • acted in a manner likely to facilitate the commission of a serious crime, whether or not a serious crime was actually committed.
  • “serious crime” is defined as any crime mentioned in Schedule 1, whereever it is committed in the world, or is conduct (constituting some other offence) that the court considers serious enough to be treated as if it were a crime mentioned in Schedule 1.

    Note that Schedule 1 can be amended by order of the Home Secretary, thus the explicit scope of the bill can be increased at any time and, in addition, the courts can expand the scope in their judgements.

The key points are:

  • No offence needs to have taken place for an order to be imposed.
  • The decision to impose an order is made on balance of probabilities in civil hearings — I suspect this also means hearsay evidence will be admitted routinely.
  • All that’s needed is that the judge decides that it is more likely than not that you acted in a manner that he considers made it easier for a, possibly hypothetical, serious crime to have been committed somewhere in the world, and in a manner that he considers not to have been reasonable.

    Note that “more likely than not” means that in the judgement of the judge there’s upto a 49.99999% that you didn’t act in the manner described above. Note further that no effort as actually made to compute the probability, it’s just down to the judge’s intuition/feeling/sense that it is “more likely than not”.

To be sure, there are some so-called “safeguards”:

  • In deciding whether you were involved in serious crime, the court must ignore any conduct which was “reasonable” in the circumstances and at the time it took place. Thus, even if you did not commit any crime, and didn’t help anyone commit a crime, and indeed no actual crime has been shown to have been facilitated by your conduct, the court will be judging whether your conduct is reasonable or not, and may impose an order despite you having broken no laws!
  • You need to be aged 18+ (Section 6).
  • The Home Secretary might have given you an exemption! (Section 7)
  • Only the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Director of Customs and Revenue and the Director of the Serious Fraud Office can apply to the courts for such orders to be imposed.(Section 8)
  • Third parties likely to be significantly adversely affected by the orders can make representations to the court. (Section 9)
  • The orders cannot force people to answer questions orally or provide information orally, or to provide information protected by e.g. legal privilege or other enactments. (sections 11 to 14)
  • Information provided by a respondent as a result of an order can only be used as evidence against the respondent in relation to prosecution for breaches of the order, or in proceedings for other offences where testimony contradicts the evidence used.(Section 15)

And if you get one of these orders, what restrictions might be put on you?

Section 5 provides examples (but makes it clear that other restrictions are possible):

  • Restrictions on your financial, property or business dealings (e.g. you could be forced to sell your house, or prevented from buying one?).
  • Restrictions on your working arrangements.
  • Restrictions on your means of communicating with others. (e.g. told only to communicate with home office approved individuals?)
  • Restrictions on the premisses to which you can be allowed access.
  • Restrictions on your use of any premisses or any items.
  • Restrictions on your travel. E.g. being told not to leave town, or being forced to leave town?

It seems to me this is a recipe for the arbitrary punishment of people who might not have committed any crime.

Other discussion of this legislation can be found at:

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


© magnacartaplus.org2008, 2007, 2006 [1 December]

variable words
prints as variable A4 pages (on my printer and set-up)

abstracts of documents on UK Acts of Parliament click for news from orientation to orientation button links to other relevant sites links

Powered by WordPress