The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 gave UK police new powers to disperse groups in authorised areas by creating 'dispersal zones' for a renewable period of up to six months in England and Wales.

Home Office estimates show that between January 2004 and April 2006 over 1,000 areas were designated dispersal zones in England and Wales.

The 2003 Act also created a power to move on or send home any young person under 16 not accompanied by an adult who is out on the streets in a dispersal zone between 9pm and 6am. The police can use these powers even if they have no reason to believe that the young person in question is actually involved in or is likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour.

Our objections to youth curfews:

  • The police already have many powers to deal with the kinds of low-level youth offending that curfews are intended to prevent;
  • This law sweeps up the innocent with the guilty, treating all young people as potential criminals, despite the fact that young people commit fewer crimes than adults;
  • Children have the right to freedom of movement and assembly just as adults do. Young people may have legitimate reasons to be out at night without adults, such as an after school job, club or activity;
  • Curfews don’t encourage young people to act responsibly but presumes that they will not.


In 2005 Liberty lawyers acted for 'W', a 15-year-old boy from Richmond who successfully challenged the legality of curfews for under-16s. The following year the Court of Appeal dealt a severe blow to curfew powers when it ruled that the police only have the power to use force to remove children who are involved in, or at risk from, actual or imminently anticipated bad behaviour.