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Ministers expect the police to apply for super-ASBOs against 300+ people per year, without those people needing to do anything illegal

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:01 pm on 14 January, 2007.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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[Hat tip: Tim Worstall]

The Times reports:

TONY BLAIR is to mount a final assault on Britain’s thug culture by introducing restrictions that will curb potential yobs’ movements even before they have committed an offence.

After attempting to tackle antisocial behaviour, he is proposing to introduce a “violent offender order” (Voo) targeted at those whom police believe are likely to commit violence.

These new “super-Asbos” will be aimed not only at people who have a history of violent behaviour or who have just left prison but also those who may not yet have committed an offence.

According to a Home Office document outlining the plan, to be published next month, the measures will ban potential trouble-makers from certain areas or mixing with certain people, alert police when they move house and possibly force them to live in a named hostel, give details of vehicles they own and impose a curfew on them.

The orders will last for at least two years, with no upper limit. Any breach could lead to up to five years in jail. Ministers believe police will apply for 300 to 450 Voos each year.

In other words, despite having acted perfectly lawfully, if the police think you might at some unspecified future point commit a violent offence, they can apply for you to be banned from certain areas, tell you who you can associate with, impose curfews or force you to live in a specific hostel.

Yet again the presumption of innocence goes out the window. Yet again this government displays a frightening disregard for basic principles of justice.

The article goes on:

Like Asbos, the police or probation service would apply for the orders to the civil courts, where the threshold for proof is lower than in a criminal case. The document says the process will therefore be much quicker and hearsay evidence will be permitted to obtain an order against a suspect. Any breach of the order would be a criminal offence.

And:

The paper identifies a series of “risk factors” that could lead to a person being targeted for the new order. These include a person’s formative years and upbringing, “cognitive deficiencies”, “entrenched pro-criminal or antisocial attitudes,” “a history of substance abuse or mental health issues”.

Factors could also include a person’s domestic situation or relationship with their partner or family, as well as more obvious signs such as “possession of paraphernalia related to violent offending (eg, balaclava, baseball bat), or extremist material”.

So, if it is alleged by several of your neighbours (whom you don’t get on with) that you’ve been abusive to an ex-partner (who they claim is too afraid to speak out) and the police find that you own a baseball bat, then you might find yourself the recipient of these orders?

Far from protecting the law abiding majority, Blair’s proposal will actually make it easier for thugs and bullies to make life a misery for people by ganging up on them in court. If you don’t have to prove an actual offence was committed, can routinely use 2nd hand testimony and use a low burden of proof to claim that someone might be violent at some point in the future, then you make it very easy to apply these powers to someone who is merely unpopular and/or vulnerable.

As for possession of “extremist literature”, in the future, could Simone Clarke, who has committed no offence, find herself the subject of one of these orders, for possessing literature from the political party she belongs to?

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