The Government’s ‘Respect Agenda’

3852 words (15 pages) Essay in Politics

13/08/18 Politics Reference this

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The current position

The “respect agenda” emerged as a broad idea during the 2005 general election campaign. Tony Blair coined it as being about:

“…putting the law-abiding majority back in charge of their local communities….[how we] bring back a proper sense of respect in our schools, in our communities, in our towns and in our villages.”[1]

A culmination of what has now been deemed as being “anti social behaviour” such as binge drinking, an increase in prostitution and vandalism as well as a rapid increase in low-level crime, the respect agenda was aimed at community spirit.

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Backing the proposals with an increase in police and local authority power to deal with families who “blight” communities with unacceptable behaviour emphasised one of its key principles as the importance of “rebalancing” the criminal justice system to benefit victims

Supporters of the scheme have claimed that it focuses on low-level aggravation and so enables the community to maintain the traditional “neighbourhood watchdog” element that has almost disappeared from the streets of Britain. Complementing the respect agenda are other proposals such as a “Face the People” scheme where community meetings will be held to allow residents to hold officials exponible for community safety issues and to voice their concerns on community matters.

The idea of respect within the anti-social behaviour agenda has also meant that the net has been able to be cast wider with further goals including the creation of a “task force” to clamp down on school discipline. Teachers and schools will be able to apply for parenting orders where a child’s behaviour requires it and local authorities being able to do designate housing or community safety officers to do the same.[2]

Criticisms and legislative proposals

As a whole the scheme has received criticism for, at best, being vague and at worst for being a clever PR slogan with nothing behind it.[3] Opposing the scheme some have said that it will not work unless the amount of police officers patrolling the streets increases in order to enforce the scheme’s proposals.

Procedurally, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and Football Banning Orders have been criticised as being are two key examples of ‘Hybrid Law’, imposed as a response to criminal conduct, supported by criminal law sanctions, but operating under a civil law procedure providing fewer protections for defendants. These hybrid orders have the power to severely restrict the freedom of individuals, who have not been found guilty of any criminal offence. [4]

Encouraging its use and claiming that local authorities do not use them sufficiently frequently[5] the ASBO was introduced by s 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act, 1998, generated heated debate at its inception and this intensified since its subsequent development.[6] Criticisms have also been levelled by a wide variety of organisations, but particularly by those involved with children, concerned over the increased powers schools will have in obtaining “parenting orders” as well as expressing concern over the way the homeless will now be treated. The Government has not only sought to rebut these criticisms, but has encouraged and facilitated the use of anti-social behaviour measures, as an active part of the respect agenda.

Will the agenda make a difference?

Contrary to this, huge support has been heard as the matters involved in the respect agenda mean that responsibility of penalising the “culprits” is at a community level rather than at an institutional one at the courts. This would ease the workload on the courts and also make way for more serious crimes rather than seeing that the low-level offences make their way through the criminal justice system swiftly. As the backbone of the proposal is a reform in granting certain powers and with that is the advancement of the use of the notorious ASBO. But with the intension of serving more ASBOs means that more of them are likely to be breached with statistics showing that currently one in four ASBOs are breached.[7]. This has meant that those who work in the criminal justice system have their doubts as to the performance of the scheme; saying that jailing people solely for breaching an ASBO seems extreme, especially if the reasons for the breach have not, in themselves, been addressed such as a drug, alcohol addiction or prostitution.[8]

Although there has been speculation as to whether the attempted “control” of behaviour through the use of ASBOs is still hotly debated; a good indication of the working of such a scheme can be noted in society’s changing attitude toward anti-social behaviour as a whole. Drink driving was once common place but is now regarded as unacceptable by most people. This change in outlook can be said to lead back to the massive publicity campaign coupled with sanctions.[9]

But once again evidence serves to the contrary – using the examples of the increased use of cannabis as well as the increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Which both, despite long-standing advertising campaigns, have become increasingly widespread, with the likes of certain STIs on the increase and increased cannabis use saw the government reclassify cannabis to make its use and possession a less serious offence.

The Human Rights issue

Some writers, especially lawyers, have concentrated on the procedural aspects of on the main elements of the proposals and the manner in which “unruly behaviour” will be dealt with – via the use of ASBOs, criticising by considering whether the government strategy is consistent with its own human rights legislation.[10]

Most controversially, the scheme has also proposed to go beyond the ambit of crime and is offering what has been coined as a “shut and seal” power. A new house closure order which would lead to people deemed guilty of causing serious nuisance to others being excluded from their own homes for three months, even if they own the properties.

JUSTICE,[11] has expressed its concerns over the manner in which an ASBOs may be obtained and how procedural issues in dong so are likely to encroached on human rights. Using the case of McCann[12] where the House of Lords accepted that proceedings to obtain an ASBO in accordance with section 1 of the Crime and Disorders Act, 1998 the classification of ASBO proceedings as being civil would mean that hearsay evidence would be used in all cases, even where there is no indication of witness intimidation. Expressing it’s understating of the Government’s motivation was a perception that victims of anti-social behaviour have in the past been too fearful to come forward and give evidence. But still raised concern over its unnecessary restriction the right to a fair trial; adding to their argument that this is particularly so, now that the Criminal Justice Act, 2003 has relaxed the hearsay rule to allow courts to accept such evidence in individual cases where there is a demonstrated problem of witness fear or intimidation.

Jeopardising civil liberties

Police powers, under the agenda, have meant that greater powers have been granted to them concerning the dispersal of groups, even when there has been no bad behaviour. This unnecessary restriction on civil liberties will potentially result in a loss of respect for the police, and the law generally, amongst the groups singled out for attention (including blanket curfew imposed on people less than 16 years of age).

This should be narrowed, in that only those groups where there is evidence of actual anti-social behaviour should there then be power for the police to order that people leave the area. So if the police believe that a certain area is especially affected then they can award themselves extra powers to deal with that location in particular. Not only are these extra powers likely to create unfounded discrimination against certain groups in society but will also confuse the police as to their powers and the public as to their rights.

Further criticism of the use of the ASBO in preventing anti-social behaviour is that they contain prohibitions that are too wide in scope and infringe the rights of the recipient, making breach of orders very likely.[13]

Parent power – Knowing what’s best?

With regards to parenting orders and increased powers allocated to school when dealing with unruly pupills, literature has critisisied this for removing young people’s right to automotny.[14] Yet at a time when the government is emphasising parents’ duty to produce good moral citizens, a degree of confusion about the limits of parents’ power is perhaps understandable. Conflicting social norms prevent parents from controlling their children’s lives, while at the same time requiring them to take responsibility for their children’s moral education and to be accountable for their children’s actions and decisions. Parents may well wonder at society’s expectations of them in seeking to find the balance.[15]

Impact of the interest group and supporting organisations

Defining “anti-social behaviour”

The meaning of the term “anti social behaviour” is wide and so problematic in its definition. As different people associate different behaviour as constituted anti-social behaviour there are certain groups at more risk than others to be unjustly swept into its categorisation. So, the wide definition of anti-social behaviour has the potential to discriminate against those from ethnic minority populations, travellers and those who simply choose an alternative lifestyle. Another main concern is that the older members of society who believe that young people are predominately anti-social means that community ties may be jeopardised as well as community relations. The risk of unnecessary over policing of young people and perhaps the unnecessary criminalisation of (what to some may be perceived as being anti-social) activities may also be prejudicial to young people’s perception of the police and be detrimental to future associations between the two groups. With the majority of ASBO applications being made against persons under the age of 21[16] is seems that the creation of this tension would be extremely likely.

How long is the punishment?

JUSTICE has expressed concern over the duration of which an ASBO can be granted. ASBOs can be served against children as young as 10. The only criteria that the magistrate must use in deciding to impose the order is that the individual has behaved in a manner “that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress”. Breaching the conditions of an ASBO is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. This means that individuals are being sent to prison for committing acts which are not in themselves illegal.As has already been discussed the conditions impose through an ASBO may be wide so warranting a likelihood of breach yet the punishment may not necessarily constitute the level of the breach committed.

An ASBO may only be imposed for the minimum of two years, and an application to discharge an ASBO lasting more than this duration may only be made after the first two years of it have passed. The granting of an ASBO is intended to prevent future anti-social behaviour. But a two year period in a young person or adolescent’s life is a long period of time, in which as a teenager much can change.[17] JUSTICE argues that a duration as long as this is unnecessary and in part may be detrimental in the development of children into adults. Curbing what some would see as “anti-social behaviour” which may have only lasted a short period of time if allowed to “run its course” may now be drawn out over a longer period of time as part of the young person rebellion. The example given by JUSTICE is that if a young person of 15 is given an ASBO including the ban on entering a town centre, 18 months on, the now mature 17 year old may miss out on offers of employment if still unable to entering the town centre.[18]

Controversially, it has been suggested that this matter will affect children much younger than those suggested by JUSTICE in that the respect agenda’ is leading to a generation of children being “demonised” because too many are being given anti-social behaviour orders. Prof Rod Morgan, the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, says some children as young as 10 are being labelled with the “mark of Cain on their foreheads” because of a misplaced hysteria over teenage crime.[19]

The wide spread of restrictions such as ASBOS in an attempt to “clamp down” on anti-social behaviour means that perfectly lawful activities can become criminalised through the use of an ASBO, such as children playing on the street. The fact that anti social behaviour must cause or “be likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress” should be better defined and narrowed to incorporate an objective element and a need for actual harassment.[20]

Ignoring the root of the problem

Whilst the civil liberties organisation Liberty[21] is concerned that children and vulnerable people who need help and support are being served with ASBOs fearing that this will create greater problems for those individuals and their roles in society. Liberty argues that if individuals are committing crimes of intimidation or harassment, then the criminal law should be used to tackle their behaviour.

Concluding

A suggestion for the way in which anti social behaviour may be prevented by non criminal justice means has been initiated in the respect agenda. The agenda proposes to rekindle a sense of solidarity in the community building bridges between neighbours and creating community relations. Due to this there is great scope for the use of alternative dispute resolution techniques, neighbourhood mediation and restorative justice responses. This would directly involve the communities that may have once been, or are risk of being affected by anti-social behaviour be it by young people or not. These methods would also avoid the need for a corrective criminal justice response. It would also aid in preventing the behaviour before it escalates; solving the problem rather than punishing people or removing them from their homes.

At present the ASBO does not appear to be working as an efficient mechanism in the fight against anti-social behaviour. Be this because the restrictive conditions of ASBOs are frequently breached, and this can lead too easily to the further criminalisation of children and young people and (in many cases) to incarceration[22] or the more controversial fact that the frequency to which ASBOs are granted the stigma behind them has disappeared, with many young people penalised by one considering it to be a “badge” of their disorderly behaviour. At a national level, criticisms relating to the lack of fairness in the use of ASBOs need to be addressed and urgently if the ASBO is to retain any weight in society.[23]

Charities have suggested that more funds should be granted to voluntary organisations and youth groups in order for young people to channel their abilities into productive activities.[24] A strong argument for this suggestion is that youth groups, activity organisations and extra-curricular centres where children and young people could attend on a voluntary basis be created. The organisations could work hand in hand with schools and maintain feedback as to the progression of the young person’s development, enabling the young person to be proactive and productive and so prevent anti-social behaviour in the long term and boredom (which may result in this) in the short term. This would also prevent the need for schools to initiate the need for parenting orders if they felt that a child’s behaviour was likely to benefit from these types of activities.

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Obviously, statistics are not needed to understand that anti-social behaviour and low-level crime are affecting communities at both ends of the UK and rapidly seems to have become a mounting problem. But this combined with the fact that parenting skills are being blamed and children and young people are having their freedom of association as well as their civil liberties encroached upon is all but likely to break down community ties and encourage bad behaviour further. But by creating a parallel civil system of justice where the definition of anti-social behaviour is extremely broad means that non-criminal activity, is in effect, being made criminal by the imposition of an order as a result of non-criminal proceedings. In a country that respects the rule of law – is it necessary for an order to cater for the crimination of behaviour?[25] What is obvious is that the ASBO appears to be a bandage over a gaping wound. The matters behind the granting of an ASBO and other remedial proposals set out in the respect agenda such as lack of parenting skills and discipline, teenage binge drinking, drug and alcohol addiction, unruly pupils and lack of adequate discipline in schools and prostitution are not even marginally being addressed. Aggravating this with an increase in powers for authorities such as councils, schools and police and lack of community ties and neighbourhood schemes those who are in need of help are more likely to be punished before the true problem is addressed.

Reference list

  • Bright, S. Eviction for Anti-Social Behaviour. 2006. Conv. 2006, JAN/FEB, 85-91
  • Burney, E. Talking Tough, Acting Coy: What Happened to the Anti-Social Behaviour Order? Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 41,Number 5, December 2002, pp. 469-484(16)
  • Collins, D.M. Tenant Liability for Nuisance Children. J. P. L. 2007, May, 669 – 674
  • Guthrie, T. Anti Social Behaviour Legislation. 2006. S.L.T. 2006, 16, 103
  • Hall, A. Children’s Rights, Parent’s Wishes and the State: Medical Treatment of Children. Fam Law 36 (317) 2006
  • Hopkins Burke, R & Morrill, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders: an Infringement of the Human Rights Act 1998? R. (2002) 11 Nottingham L.J.
  • Koffman, L. The Use of Anti-social Behaviour Orders: An Empirical Study of a New Deal for Communities Area. 2006. Crim. L.R. 2006, JUL, 593-613
  • Matthews, R. Policing Prostitution: Ten Years on. November 2005. 45 Brit. J. Criminology 877
  • Robins, J. Focus Police: Serve and Protect. (2006) LS Gaz, 9 Mar, 20
  • Robson, G. Community Justice Centres Part 1: A Political Agenda with Possibilities? (2006) 170 JPN 584 5 August 2006
  • Thomas, D.A. Sentencing: Anti-Social behaviour orders on conviction. 2006. Crim. L.R. 2006, JUN, 569-572
  • Case Comment: Anti-Social Behaviour. Knowsley Housing Trust v McMullen [2006] EWCA Civ 539; [2006] H.L.R. 43 (CA (Civ Div)) L.& T. Review 2006, 10(4), D61-62

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4597378.stm (Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 08:53 GMT)

[2] Op cit

[3] I bid 1

[4] R. Hopkins Burke and R. Morrill, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders: an Infringement of the Human Rights Act 1998? (2002) 11 Nottingham L.J.

[5] Burney, E. Talking Tough, Acting Coy: What Happened to the Anti-Social Behaviour Order?

[6] Hopkins Burke, R & Morrill, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders: an Infringement of the Human Rights Act 1998?

[7] Koffman, L. The Use of Anti-social Behaviour Orders: An Empirical Study of a New Deal for Communities Area

[8] http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/public/article697842.ece

[9] I bid 1

[10] I bid 6

[11] As per report via http://www.justice.org.uk/

[12] R. (on the application of McCann v Manchester Crown Court. [2002] UKHL 39

[13] I bid 6

[14] Hall, A. Children’s Rights, Parent’s Wishes and the State: Medical Treatment of Children.

[15] Op cit

[16] As per statistics included in Koffman, L. The Use of Anti-social Behaviour Orders: An Empirical Study of a New Deal for Communities Area as sourced from S. Campbell, A Review of Anti-social Behaviour Orders, Home Office Research Study 236 (Home Office, 2002), at p.8.

[17] As per Memorandum submitted by JUSTICE: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmhaff/80ii/80we24.htm

[18] Op cit at para 10

[19] Daily Telegraph, 24 April 2006,

[20] I bid 17 at para 16

[21] http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/

[22] In accordance with the proposals set out by the respect agenda: referring to the campaigns use of refer to this campaign’s use of “simple, populist language, justifying tough enforcement.”

[23] I bid 7

[24] I bid 20

[25] I bid 17 at para 19

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